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Guinea's soldiers stage violent protests over wages

Latest update : 2008-05-28

A significant number of Guinean soldiers have fired weapons and seized an army general demanding what they say are unpaid wages, in a repeat of a similar 2007 revolt. (Report: T. Mossot and T. Grucza)

Guinean soldiers claiming years of unpaid wages have captured their own chief-of-staff and taken to the streets of the capital Conakry, said witnesses and military sources.

Soldiers carried out the actions on Monday, in a repeat of anti-government protests staged by soldiers in May 2007 over the same issue.

Paratroops and special forces at the largest military base of Alfa Yaya Diallo, near the capital's international airport, unloaded their weapons in the morning for more than two hours in an echo of a May 2007 mutiny.

At around 2:30 pm they seized General Mamadou Sampil after he came to try to negotiate with them.

Gunfire was also heard for the first time since the protests started in Kindia, 130 kilometres (80 miles) further inland, which houses one of the country's biggest army garrisons.

Local civilians had hurried to take cover in their homes, for fear of being hit by stray bullets.

Guinea's president, General Lansana Conte, called a meeting of his ministers and top military officers at the presidential palace in Conakry on Monday. It ran for four and a half hours, well into the evening.

In a statement issued after Monday's meeting and read out on television, the government called for calm and asked for the soldiers to open dialogue and negotiations.

Among those who attended the meeting was Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare, who was only appointed last Friday after Conte sacked his predecessor, Lansana Kouyate.

The dismissal of Kouyate was one of the soldiers's grievances, as they said they were now left them with no one to whom they could address their complaints.

The soldiers are angry about what they say is 1,100 euros (1,735 dollars) in unpaid wages, a debt they say dates back to 1996.

One soldier contacted by telephone said they had been paid only a fraction of the sum owed.

Troops launched violent protests across the country a year ago over the same issue, during which at least eight people died and dozens more were injured by stray bullets.

On that occasion, soldiers rampaged across the country looting food stocks and at times firing indiscriminately at civilians.

Conte, who has ruled the west African nation with an iron fist since 1984, subsequently sacked the army's senior officers and his defence minister.

He only appointed 58-year-old Kouyate as prime minister in February 2007 under a deal to end a general strike and massive protests during which 186 people were killed.

Kouyate, a former UN diplomat, was on a list of candidates proposed by the opposition and unions, and replaced a close aide to Conte, Eugene Camara, whose appointment had only fuelled the unrest.

Date created : 2008-05-28