- The death of Guinean Dictator Lansana Conté has been confirmed, and military forces have taken power in Conakry. The African Union (AU) is monitoring the situation, having long-held fears Guinea might develop into a failed state.
The Guinean army today announced on national radio it had dissolved government and taken over power in the West African country's capital, Conakry. A "consultative council" of civilian and military chiefs was to be set up in stead of the civilian government, preparing for "fair elections" to be held soon, the announcement added.
"As of today, the constitution is suspended as well as political and union activity," Captain Moussa Dadis Camara said on state radio. He added that all state institutions had been "dissolved" and ordered government officials to move to military camps to "guarantee their security".
The move came after National Assembly Speaker Aboubacar Somparé announced the death of President Lansana Conté after "long illness". Mr Somparé, according to the constitution of Guinea, stands first in line to take over the presidency.
The diseased Guinean leader, who himself came to power in a coup 24 years ago, had been assumed dead on many earlier occasions, as his multiple illnesses often prevented him from appearing in public. It was believed he suffered from leukaemia, but officials so far only had admitted his strong diabetes illness.
While Mr Conté ruled Guinea with an iron hand, allowing no real opposition, the country remained an island of relative stability in an otherwise troubled region, where brutal war ravaged neighbouring Liberia and Sierra Leone. Internal problems were dealt with using the army, which brutally answered any attempts of protests, strikes or rioting.
His rule however did not allow for economic development in the country, known to be immensely rich on natural resources. Rampant corruption, embezzlement and very poor governance lead to total lack of development in Guinea during Mr Conté's two decades in power, and several generations born without hopes of any future.
His authoritarian style, which included frequent changes of government, also permitted any successor to emerge, let alone any functional political parties that could engage in a credible electoral competition. The only movement having wide credibility among Guineans are the trade unions, which on several occasions have led the people in political protests against the regime.
Analysts for years therefore have feared the political vacuum and explosive situation that would emerge after President Conté's death. Without the diseased strongman, no authority stands ready to lead the country.
Also the Guinean army, now claiming to hold power, seems to fear chaos and popular uprisings. Captain Camara urged people to refrain from looting. In a later statement, the new Council in power announced that all public assemblies were forbidden, with immediate effect. Until now, no public unrest has been reported from Conakry.
Meanwhile, also the international community is fearing for developments in Guinea, which could have the force to destabilise the entire region. The African Union (AU) in a statement today said it condemned the military takeover, adding it was to monitor the political development in the country closely.
Also the French government, currently heading the European Union (EU) presidency, said the EU would not accept any military takeover in Guinea. The EU is Guinea's main donor. In a statement, the EU called on military and civilian leaders to comply with "constitutional provisions in order to ensure a peaceful transition with a view to quickly holding free and transparent elections."
However, according to French authorities, there were strong signs that the army representatives claiming to have taken control in Guinea in fact were not in power. "We have a claim that does not seem to be backed up by the facts," according to French Foreign Ministry spokesman Eric Chevallier.
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