Two men walk on an empty street in front of closed shops in Conakry
Saliou Samb  /  Reuters
Two men walk on an empty street in front of closed shops in Conakry, on Wednesday. Guinean President Lansana Conte declared martial law in the West African country on Monday to curb a wave of violent protests lead by unions opposed to his 23-year rule.
updated 2/13/2007 10:10:47 AM ET 2007-02-13T15:10:47

President Lansana Conte declared a state of emergency in Guinea on Monday, saying he had ordered the army to “take all necessary measures” to restore order after three days of violent protests. At least 27 people have been killed.

Amid the rioting and clashes with security forces, the West African country’s major trade unions called for Conte to step down after his apparent violation of a power-sharing agreement.

Dressed in white traditional robes, Conte announced in a television broadcast that he had ordered the army to “protect the people of Guinea from the risk of a civil war.”

The violence started Saturday following Conte’s appointment of a close ally from his Cabinet as prime minister. The move angered many who said he sidestepped a power-sharing agreement by naming a confidant, and angry youths took to the streets, throwing stones and burning tires.

“I satisfactorily fulfilled all points of the demands. In spite of this goodwill, badly intentioned people restarted the union movement to ridicule the authority of the State,” Conte said in the broadcast.

Gunfire and machetes
Yet union leaders called for Conte’s resignation and restarted a general strike Monday. Gangs of machete-wielding youths roamed the capital throughout the day, while gunfire was heard in some neighborhoods.

Residents reported hearing gunshots earlier Monday at a military base on Conakry’s outskirts, and smoke — possibly from barricades of burning tires — rose over parts of the city.

Groups of youths armed with machetes and sabers marched in suburban streets, shouting for change in protests that were broadcast by Guinea’s FM Liberty radio station. Security forces blocked roads leading into the center of Conakry, where the government is based.

At least 11 people died in Saturday’s violence, according to medical officials and witnesses. Sixteen more bodies of people killed in the fighting were brought to Conakry’s main morgue Monday, said Hassan Bah, the director of the city’s Ignace Deen hospital.

Leaders of the political opposition put Saturday’s figure at more than 30 and Conakry’s League of Human Rights said it had tallied 57 deaths in the interior of the country from reports by its local representatives.

The president of Guinea’s national assembly called for union and community leaders to return to negotiations with the government, according to a statement read on FM Liberty.

The station switched to music broadcasts from news during the day after a raid by government forces.

“They broke our console, took our microphones and computers,” journalist Ibrahima Diallo said. The station’s chief and a technician were arrested, he said.

General strike crippled country
Last month, a two-week national strike brought Guinea to a standstill and quickly spiraled into violence as protesters clashed with security forces. At least 59 people were killed in that unrest.

Union leaders called off the strike after Conte agreed to appoint a consensus prime minister who was not a current member of his government. The post had been left vacant since Conte fired Prime Minister Cellou Dalein Diallo in April.

Conte, who seized power in a 1984 coup, named Eugene Camara, a Cabinet member since 1997, to the post on Friday. Camara served most recently as minister for presidential affairs.

The next day, protesters took to the streets, throwing rocks and ransacking government buildings. Security forces fired into the crowds.

Guinea’s 10 million people are impoverished and many live without the most basic public services, even though the country has half the world’s reserves of bauxite, a material used to produce aluminum.

Opposition leaders have also called for Conte to step down, saying the ailing president has let corruption overrun Guinea as people struggle to meet basic needs.

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