June 12, 2006

Nine killed in Guinea as soldiers quash protests

By Saliou Samb

CONAKRY (Reuters) - At least nine people were killed and
more than a dozen wounded when soldiers opened fire on student
protests in Guinea on Monday, police and witnesses said, as a
general strike gripped the West African state.

Three people were killed in the capital Conakry, including
a child hit by a stray bullet, when an isolated soldier opened
fire after being mobbed by angry students protesting at the
suspension of exams due for Monday, a police source said.

A witness in the northern town of Labe, some 430 km (270
miles) from Conakry, saw the corpses of three demonstrators
shot dead by soldiers, in a second day of violent students

Three more people died in the eastern town of Nzerekore,
970 km (600 miles) southeast of Conakry, after troops shot at a
protest against President Lansana Conte's government.

"Soldiers opened fire on a group of students who were
marching on the governor's residence. Two people died there and
a third student was killed at the Oumar Drame primary school,"
said a Nzerekore resident, who asked not to be identified.

A riot broke out in the provincial capital after students
began to taunt police when it became clear that adjudicators
for Monday's exams had not turned up, despite government
reassurances the nationwide tests would go ahead.

In another area of Conakry students shouting "Down with the
government" ransacked local education offices and rampaged
through the streets, despite police efforts to contain them.

The general strike, which began on Thursday, was the latest
action by unions leading opposition to Conte's disastrous
economic management in mineral-rich Guinea.

Conte held an emergency meeting with union leaders on
Monday, a presidential source said. The outcome was not
immediately clear.


Once a bulwark of stability in West Africa, Guinea is
struggling with rampant corruption, a collapsing economy and a
powerful but fractious military. Analysts fear a dangerous
power vacuum if Conte -- a diabetic in his 70s -- were to die.

"Guinea is increasingly unstable. The cabinet reshuffle
showed the government ... is not interested in reform or
meeting civil society's insistent calls for change," said
Richard Reeve, West African expert at London-based Chatham

In Conakry, government offices and businesses were closed
as the five-day-old strike deepened.

The unions have demanded the government reverse a 30
percent increase in fuel prices announced in mid-May, which it
said obliterated wage increases set a month earlier. A liter of
gasoline costs 5,500 Guinean francs ($1.20) in a country where
more than half the population lives on less than $1 a day.

Union leaders at the Compagnie des Bauxites de Guinee (CBG)
-- the world's largest producer of the ore used to make
aluminum -- decided last week not to follow the strike call due
to the strategic importance of their sector. The CBG is
controlled by Alcan and Alcoa.