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Several killed in Guinea protests against new constitution

October 15, 2019

Guinea's continued crackdown on opposition protests led to several deaths on Monday. Police opened fire on demonstrators opposing a new constitution that could allow President Alpha Conde to run for a third term.

Police face off against a group of protesters in Conakry
Image: Getty Images/AFP/C. Binani

Thousands of opposition supporters, civil society groups and trade unionists had gathered on Monday for nationwide demonstrations and strikes. The coalition, known as the Guinean Organisation for the Defense of Human Rights, were protesting against the president's bid to adopt a reformed constitution that could extend his time in office beyond the end of his mandate in 2020.

Police shot tear gas and live bullets at protesters as they ransacked military posts, threw stones and blocked roads with burning tires in the outskirts of the capital, Conakry.

Opposition leader Cellou Diallo told reporters that four people were shot by security forces in the capital on Monday and at least 38 people were wounded.

Guinea's Red Cross also said that four protesters had been killed, adding that at least 20 people had bullet wounds.

Residents in the Wanindara district of Conakry, told The Associated Press they witnessed two young men being wounded by bullets shot by men in National Gendarmerie uniforms.

Riot police gather on a road
Image: Reuters TV

"Young people and gendarmes were fighting. The gunshots that hit them were fired from the van of these gendarmes. Both young people fell," Ousmane Sow, a resident of Wanindara, told AP. He said one was hit in the foot and the other in the back.

The government has disputed these figures, saying that only one person was killed in the capital, while a police officer was killed in Mamou, some 250 km ( 0.62 miles) northeast of Conakry.

'Uneasy calm' in Conakry

Although opposition groups had called for protests to continue, on Tuesday an "uneasy calm" had descended on Conakry, according to journalist Karim Karama.

The police has a "strong presence in all strategic areas of the capital," he reported over the phone from Conakry.

There was little traffic, particularly in opposition areas of the city, because "streets are littered with burned out tires, stones and other dangerous objects," he said, "while shops and offices in certain areas remain closed, as well as some schools, because people are afraid of the dangers."

He added that some people, such as small traders and minibus drivers, were against the demonstrators because it stopped them from being able to work. Many in Guinea live a hand-to-mouth existence.

"Some people are grumbling and saying, 'We should call the strike action off, we want to go on the streets [and work] at least so we can eat'," Kamara said.

Protesters block a road in Conakry
The government been cracking down on opposition and has banned at least 20 planned protests since July 2018Image: Getty Images/AFP/C. Binani

Groups of youth were still loitering in several opposition strongholds of Conakry on Tuesday afternoon, according to Karama, but weren't engaging with police.

One told DW he would keep protesting "as long as [President] Alphe Conde continues to stay in power."

Another said he wouldn't be scared off by the deaths.

"Several people have been killed between yesterday and today but we are still demonstrating," he told DW. "We don't want a new constitution."

Constitution doesn't allow third term

Conde was elected as president in December 2010 in the country's first democratic transition of power since independence from France in 1958. He wasre-elected in 2015 for a second and final term that expires in 2020.

Under Guinea's constitution, adopted just nine years ago, presidents are limited to two five-year terms. A provision of the constitution also forbids changing or amending "the number or duration of the mandates".

Because of this provision, the only legal way to get around the presidential term limitation is to call for a referendum on the adoption of a new constitution to replace the current one.

Conde has indicated several times that he wants to run again but has refused to make an official pronouncement on the subject.

Fears of constitutional reform has sparked sporadic protests in Guinea over the past two years.

Referendum looks likely

Opposition parties called these latest demonstrations after Conde, at the end of September, announced that the public should prepare a referendum.

Speaking on Monday, opposition figure Diallo said: "We encourage citizens to continue to demonstrate - today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow - until our legitimate demands are satisfied. We need a clear, firm and irrevocable declaration from Alpha Conde renouncing a third term." 

Alpha Conde, Guinean President, addresses the United Nations
Many believe Alpha Conde will seek a third term despite his avowed 'commitment to democracy'Image: Reuters/C. Allegri

A presidential communique released on Monday stressed Conde's "total commitment to democracy" especially his own history as an opposition leader. He also invited opposition members to participate in an open dialogue "without limits or taboos" to discuss matters of national concern.

The communique made no mention, however, of whether Conde would talk about the proposed new constitution or his intentions for a third term during such a dialogue.

Opposition leaders arrested

The coalition group that called for Monday's demonstration, the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution, said six of opposition figures were detained over the weekend.

"Since they were picked up Saturday... , they were... questioned for four hours, then taken to an unknown location," lawyer Salifou Beavogui told AFP.

Karim Kamara in Conakry and Michael Oti contributed to this article.

(kh/bve) AP, AFP, Reuters

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