June 12, 2006

Nine killed as Guinea soldiers fire on protesters

By Saliou Samb

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

President Lansana Conte's government blamed the opposition
for stirring violence during the student protests against the
suspension of exams due on Monday in the former French colony.

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

Once a bulwark of stability in West Africa, Guinea is
struggling with rampant corruption, a collapsing economy and a
powerful but fractious military.

"A lack of control resulted in the loss of life and
important material damage both in (the capital) Conakry and in
certain towns in the interior," government spokesman Moussa
Solano told state media, without providing further details.

"Certain political parties worked to manipulate rioters
within the student ranks."

Three people were killed in Conakry, including a child hit
by a stray bullet, when a soldier opened fire after being
mobbed by angry students, 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 student

Three people were killed in the eastern town of Nzerekore,
about 970 km (600 miles) southeast of Conakry, where a riot
erupted after pupils taunted police when it became clear
adjudicators for Monday's exams had heeded the strike call.

"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.

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

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. CBG is controlled
by Alcan and Alcoa.

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

Analysts fear a dangerous power vacuum if Conte -- a
diabetic in his 70s -- were to die. In a cabinet reshuffle last
month, he promoted long-term allies from his own ethnic group.

"Guinea is increasingly unstable. The 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 the London-based Chatham House think-tank.

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
they said obliterated wage increases set a month earlier. A
liter of petrol costs 5,500 Guinean francs ($1.20) in a country
where more than half the population lives on less than $1 a