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Violent protests in Guinea

Stephanie Duckstein / sh
April 15, 2015

After DR Congo and Burundi, Guinea is now experiencing protests sparked by questionable presidential decisions. In the capital Conakry, there have been pitched battles between opposition supporters and security forces.

Guinean police in riot gear
Image: AFP/Getty Images/C. Binani

Barricades block off entire streets, stones fly through the air, car tires burn in the streets of Guinea's capital Conakry. For the second day in a row, opposition supporters and security forces have joined battle in the West African nation. The demonstrators are calling for President Alpha Conde to resign. The police response is to fire teargas into the crowd.

Opposition sources said on Wednesday (15.04.2015) three people had been killed and 50 wounded, 12 from gunfire. The government has confirmed the death of a young girl "after a fall" but denied the police shot at protesters. In a statement it accused the opposition of seeking to incite "chaos and violence."

Earlier, government spokesman Albert Damantang Camara told DW one man had been killed, however "it has not been confirmed that he was shot during the demonstration. The corpse arrived at the hospital late at night, thirteen hours after the demonstration." Camara said an investigation was underway to ascertain the origin of the fatal shots.

Electoral calender sparks protests

The opposition had called on the population to come out and demonstrate. It cricitizises the poor security situation in the country and accuses President Conde of poor governance. The main problem, according to Aboubacar Sylla, spokesman of the opposition alliance and chairman of the opposition party Union of the Forces for Change (UFC), is that Guinea's institutions are all under the thumb of the president. "He has systematically placed people close to himself at the top of important institutions. Parliament simply waves through all the president's drafts for new legislation, just like the post delivering letters," Sylla said.

burning tires in Conakry
Tires burned as opposition supporters and police clashed in ConakryImage: AFP/Getty Images/C. Binani

The opposition plans further demonstrations this week in Conakry, to be followed by further rallies in the country at large. Sylla says the protests will continue "until the government listens to us. Our aim is not to destabilize the government. We just want the laws of our country to be [properly] applied."

The trigger for the opposition's massive protests came at the end of March with the publication of the electoral calendar. The independent electoral commission (CENI) had announced on 10 March that the presidential election should take place in October 2015, but that communal elections, contrary to previous assurances, would only be held in early 2016.

"We have no problem with the date set by the electoral commission for the presidential election," Sylla told DW. "But we are not happy that the government is hanging on at all costs to its local-level representatives who are not elected but appointed."

The mandates for mayors ran out ten years ago, Sylla said. He accused the government of wanting to keep them in office in order to be able to manipulate the October presidential election.

Police in the streets of Conakry with black smoke in the background
The protests are set to continue in Conakry and elsewhere in GuineaImage: AFP/Getty Images/C. Binani

No respect for civil rights

Since independence in 1958, Guinea has experienced several periods of autocratic rule. Popular protests were put down by the government with an excessive use of force.

Both Guineans and the international community were relieved when veteran opposition politician Alpha Conde emerged as the winner in the largely free presidential election of 2010. But tensions remained between government and opposition camps and there were repeated outbursts of violence.

"Guinea is a country that is tied up in a pointless spiral of violence," says Alpha Amadou Bano Barry, a sociologist and professor at the University of Sonfonia in Conakry. "The security forces are not sufficiently trained to respect civil rights during their operations. They are not even told how important this is. Violence here is normal, there is a general atmosphere of impunity."

Disappointed by their government's performance, many Guineans had placed their hopes on the local elections due in 2015, intending to use them as a protest vote. The announcement that the elections would be held later caused outrage. "There are very few democrats in Guinea," said Barry. "That applies both to the government and the opposition. We are dealing with political groups that believe that all methods are acceptable that lead to power - which they have no intention of relinquishing."

President Alpha conde
Many Guineans are disappointed by President Alpha CondeImage: picture-alliance/AP

Dialogue without conditions

In the meantime, the security forces are increasing their presence in Conakry, according to reports from the AFP news agency. Residents of the suburb Hamdallaye say their homes have been searched by police. Shops remain closed. Government spokesman Albert Damantang Camara told DW "We want to enter into dialogue without preconditions but the opposition is setting conditions." Camara insisted that the government is willing to talk. "We want to be able to talk about all topics, without any taboos. We hold out our hand to them, so that all Guineans can vote without any concerns."