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Guinea prime minister surrenders to junta

Guinea's prime minister steps  down and surrenders at an army barracks along with about 30 other government leaders as the head of a military coup consolidated his control over the African country.
Guinea coup leader Moussa Camara reads a statement in a TV broadcast. His National Council for Democracy and Development announced Tuesday that it had seized control of the West African country after the death of its longtime dictator. AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

CONAKRY, Guinea — Guinea's prime minister stepped down and surrendered at an army barracks along with about 30 other government leaders Thursday, as the head of a military coup consolidated his control over the African country.

Private radio station Liberte FM carried a live broadcast of Ahmed Tidiane Souare telling coup leader Moussa Camara: "We are at your disposal." The radio station reported that Camara said the government leaders were then free to leave.

Souare's mother, Aissatou, told The Associated Press in a telephone interview that her son was no longer prime minister and that he and the other ministers went to the barracks to avoid being hunted down.

Souare had not been seen in public since Camara's group of junior officers declared a coup Tuesday, though he had said Wednesday he was still in control. Souare served under longtime dictator Lansana Conte, whose death Monday after nearly a quarter-century in power threw the West African country into turmoil.

Cheering crowds
On Wednesday, throngs of people line Conakry's streets to cheer on the coup leader, Camara, who led a military convoy parade to the presidential palace. Camara has declared himself Guinea's interim leader and pledged to hold a presidential election in two years.

In radio broadcasts Thursday, Camara said he had no intention of being a candidate in the December 2010 vote but that his group wanted to re-establish order in Guinea.

"I want to warn anyone that thinks they can try to corrupt me or my agents. Money is of no interest to us," Camara said. "There are already people who are starting to show up with bags of money to try to corrupt us. They've tried to give money to our wives and cars to our children. I will personally go after anyone that tries to corrupt us."

He also promised a "grandiose funeral" for Conte on Friday. Conte died Monday night, but there has been no funeral despite Muslim custom calling for burial of the dead within 24 hours.

"How can you leave the body of a president like that without taking care of it?" Camara said. "I saw the body — it's not been treated. It leaves you to think we don't have a single ice room in all of Guinea."

Leader's funeral
Conte's body was to be brought to a Conakry stadium Friday morning and to the Grand Mosque before interment. Camara's group said it would ensure the security of visiting foreign heads of state and dignitaries.

Under Guinea's constitution, parliament leader Aboubacar Sompare had been next in line to be president.

Though many in Conakry supported the coup leader and said they were ready for change, others expressed concern about Camara's group.

"We are all worried. Although I'm a little bit happy, I'm mostly anxious," said Yahya Sako, a radio and TV repairman in the northern Guinean town of Siguiri, located in an area of many gold mines. "Are these military people going to continue to hold on to power?"

Until Conte's death, Guinea had been ruled by only two people since its 1958 independence from France. Conte first took power in a 1984 military coup after his predecessor's death, embarking on more than two decades of stern-handed, dictatorial rule.

Fraud accusations
He won presidential elections in 1993, 1998 and 2003, but the ballots were marred by accusations of fraud. In 2003, Conte secured 95 percent of the vote — an improbably high tally for a man many say was deeply unpopular.

Guinea is the world's largest producer of bauxite, used to produce aluminum, and has gold, diamond and iron ore deposits. The nation, located at the confluence of several West African rivers, could generate enough electricity to power the region, some analysts say.

But Guinea's economy has rapidly deteriorated, and its 10 million people are among the world's poorest. A food exporter at independence from France, Guinea started importing food as it became crippled by corruption, inflation and high unemployment.