Seyllou  /  AFP - Getty Images
Pro-coup soldiers parade through the streets of Conakry, Guinea's capital, Dec. 24, 2008.
updated 12/24/2008 2:16:27 PM ET 2008-12-24T19:16:27

The leader of a coup in Guinea paraded through its capital Wednesday followed by several thousand soldiers, hours after saying a presidential election would be held within two years. A crowd cheered him on, screaming "Long live the president!"

An Associated Press reporter saw Capt. Moussa Camara standing in the first truck of the convoy waving to the crowd that lined the streets in the West African country's capital. A phalanx of soldiers hoisting Kalashnikovs accompanied him.

The convoy was winding its way to the nation's presidential compound where Camara was expected to read a declaration, officially naming himself head of the country's interim government.

Camara was unknown to most Guineans until Tuesday, when he and other members of the military announced a coup following the death of the country's longtime dictator Lansana Conte.

The military-led group initially promised there would be a vote within 60 days, but Camara broadcast another message Wednesday, maintaining the group's hold over public airwaves.

"The National Council for Democracy and Development has no ambition of staying in power," he said on state radio. "We are here to promote the organization of credible and transparent presidential elections by the end of December 2010."

The group set a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. in the capital, where soldiers loyal to the coup plotters circulated in tanks and jeeps armed with rocket launchers. The troops carried machine guns and wore military uniforms and red berets.

Prime Minister: Government in control
Meanwhile, the prime minister, who has been in hiding since the coup was declared, said from an undisclosed location that the government remained in control.

"This unknown captain doesn't control the army. The majority of the troops are still loyal — but one little group can cause a lot of disorder," Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare told The Associated Press earlier Wednesday.

Since independence from France in 1958, Guinea had been ruled by only two people until Conte's death Monday evening. He first took power in a 1984 military coup after the death of his predecessor and went on to win presidential elections in 1993, 1998 and 2003.

But every election his government organized was marred by accusations of fraud. The most recent in 2003 was boycotted by the opposition, and Conte — who by all accounts had become deeply unpopular — secured 95 percent of the vote. The next presidential election had been scheduled for December 2010.

The United States will be "examining what options we have in the coming days," State Department spokesman Robert Wood said, including a cut-off of non-humanitarian U.S. aid, although no decisions have been made.

"One of the things we want to see happen immediately is the restoration of civilian, democratic rule. We're very disappointed that this transition process in Guinea doesn't have any civilian component," Wood said.

Experts: Coup could be best thing
But opposition politicians and experts cautioned that a military takeover could be the best thing for Guinea, a nation ruled by the same man for the past 24 years.

The constitution calls for the head of the parliament to succeed the president. But Africa expert Peter Pham says it would be a mistake to regard a constitution drawn up by the supporters of a man who never intended to relinquish power as a legitimate instrument.

Pham says Aboubacar Sompare, the man hand-picked by Conte to lead the National Assembly, was so unpopular that Conte was forced to delay the opening of parliament so he could assure his chosen successor had the needed number of votes.

"Even with the old man standing there coercing them to vote for him, he almost didn't have a majority," said Pham, director of the Nelson Institute for International and Public Affairs at James Madison University. "The international community would be mistaken to ask Guinea to blindly adhere to the legality of a document Conte created, which was not the result of any democratic process."

For years, rumors would come and go that Conte was in fact dead — forcing him to appear on TV to reassure the public. His declining health paralleled the decay of what was once one of Africa's most promising states, blessed with diamonds, gold and half the world's reserves of bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminum.

Watchdog: Most corrupt state
By 2002, the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund suspended aid because of bad governance. It was recently ranked the most corrupt state in Africa by corruption watchdog Transparency International.

Statistics paint a picture of a country in an economic tailspin. From a tame 4 percent in the 1990s, inflation is now over 20 percent and growth has been cut in half. Even by African standards, Guineans are poor, earning on average just $91 per month, a sum that led to riots last year when a government salary could no longer allow a family to buy a bag of rice.

As the nation's quality of living deteriorated, Conte became increasingly paranoid, constantly reshuffling his government. A total of 172 different people have served as ministers in his cabinet, according to a report by New York-based Human Rights Watch.

The most serious recent challenge to Conte's rule came two years ago as demonstrators called for him to step down and Guinea descended into chaos. Conte responded by declaring martial law and sent tanks into the streets of the capital. Security forces killed dozens of demonstrators.

More on Lansana Conte

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