Guinea coup leader a no show at funeral

Image: Guinean soldiers escort the remains of late dictator Lansana Conte
Guinean soldiers escort the remains of late dictator Lansana Conte arriving at the stadium from the "Palais du Peuple" (people's palace) during his funeral ceremony in Conakry on December 26, 2008. Guinea paid its final respects today to late dictator Lansana Conte as the military junta that seized control in the wake of his death planned a charm offensive to gain international legitimacy.Seyllou / AFP - Getty Images
/ Source: The Associated Press

Allies of the dictator who ruled Guinea for nearly a quarter-century mourned him Friday but the leader of the coup that followed his death did not attend the ceremonies.

Capt. Moussa Camara had promised a "grandiose funeral" for strongman Lansana Conte a day earlier and in a broadcast called on Guineans to show up en masse.

Camara's presence would have been a demonstration of his control over Guinea — his absence surprised many mourners and caused widespread speculation about the reason.

Tens of thousands of mourners packed a stadium where Conte's body was brought after a eulogy in parliament. The junta's No. 2 leader was there — the only coup representative seen Friday.

Col. Toto Camara, who is not related to the coup leader, did not explain why Capt. Camara was not in attendance but said the junta "reassures the people of Guinea that we will guarantee your well-being."

Conte's body was being taken next to Conakry's Grand Mosque before interment in his village about 60 miles away.

Conte died Monday after ruling the West African nation since seizing power in a 1984 coup after the death of his predecessor. He was widely seen as corrupt and authoritarian. Hours after the announcement of Conte's death, Camara's group declared a coup. Camara has declared himself Guinea's interim leader, promising not run in an election he says will be held in December 2010.

A service inside Guinea's parliament Friday was heavily attended by members of Conte's former government, including deposed Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare, who surrendered to coup leaders and stepped down along with dozens of other government leaders on Thursday.

Sitting in the front row was Facinet Toure, Conte's comrade-in-arms during the 1984 coup that brought the dictator to power. He told mourners: "I ask the people of Guinea to forgive the general for all that he did that was not good."

Conte's coffin sat on a stage with two of his three wives, who wore dark sunglasses and clutched tissues. Also attending were the presidents of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea-Bissau, and African Union commission chairman Jean Ping.

Parliament leader Aboubacar Sompare, who had been next in line to be president under Guinea's constitution, remained at large following the expiration of a deadline that coup leaders set for government members to present themselves.

Presidential guards used belts to beat back mourners who wanted to push their way in.

Many in the international community say December 2010 is too long to wait for a presidential election. The European Union has urged Guinea to hold "democratic and transparent" elections within the first three months of 2009.

French Foreign Ministry spokesman Frederic Desagneaux said that foreign diplomats would meet in the Guinean capital Saturday.

Guinea is the world's largest producer of bauxite, used to produce aluminum. The nation, located at the confluence of several rivers, could generate enough electricity to power the region, some analysts say.

But its economy has rapidly deteriorated, and its 10 million people are among the world's poorest.