Guinean security forces were busy this Tuesday removing evidence of the bloodshed that took place after the military broke up an opposition rally in the West-African country’s capital, Conakry.
Troops were ordered to collect bodies in and around a stadium where the military charged into a huge opposition rally and take them to the Alpha Yaya Diallo army camp rather than to morgues, according to a Red Cross source quoted by the AFP news agency.
The Guinean Human Rights Organisation told the AFP at least 157 people were killed in the military crackdown.
The protesters had gathered, in defiance of a ban, to oppose junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara’s decision to run for election in a presidential poll set for January 2010.
Alhassan Silla, a freelance journalist, told FRANCE 24 he was in the stadium when security forces moved in to break up the opposition gathering.
“There were well over 50,000 people at this rally, the pitch was full and there were many people outside (…) While this meeting was going on, military units in red berets came into the stadium and, without warning, opened fire”, said Silla.
Camara ‘very sorry’ about deaths
The brutal crackdown will further tarnish the reputation of captain Camara, who took power in a bloodless coup hours after the death of long-time President Lansana Conte in December 2008.
A tacit agreement between the military and civilian representatives has kept the junta leader in power on condition that he doesn’t run for president in next year’s election.
The junta crackdown has already prompted strong international condemnation from the UN, the EU, the US, and the African Union. Former colonial ruler France slammed the “violent repression exercised by the army against the opposition and civil society during a peaceful demonstration” and called for restraint.
In an interview with French radio RFI, Camara claimed he felt “very sorry” about the death of protesters, but he didn’t clarify whether he would take part in the 2010 presidential vote.
“I’ve never declared I’d run for president, I’m still undecided. Some Guinean people want Dadis (Camara) president, others support their own leaders. That’s democracy. I’ll organise a kind of national consultation to know if I should be candidate”, the junta leader told RFI on Monday.
‘You’re not the one who gave me power, I took it’
The 45-year-old captain, who has been in the military for 17 years, makes a point of always wearing his camouflage uniform and red beret in public appearances.
Camara’s record of leading soldiers’ uprisings over the last couple of years doesn’t bode well for his capacity to strike a compromise. In spring 2007, his armed rebellion over soldiers’ late pay prompted clashes between the military and the police, leaving 8 people dead.
Camara’s eccentric behaviour has come under the spotlight after a succession of hazy speeches and sudden outbursts of anger in TV appearances.
“Don’t take me for your little boy, I’m president, president of Guinea! (…) You’re not the one who gave me this power, I took it”, said Camara after removing his sunglasses and staring menacingly at a German representative of the European Union during a diplomatic meeting earlier this year.
While calls for democratisation are likely to intensify, the opposition is threatened by further crackdowns. Two former prime ministers, Cellou Dalein Diallo and Sidya Toure, were injured in the violence and their houses were pillaged by soldiers, according to their neighbours. They were released early this Tuesday morning but their treatment could lead to new demonstrations.
“Some of the leading political leaders were arrested and brutalised by the military. There are worries people could come out again to protest against the treatment of their leaders”, said Silla, pointing to fear of renewed violence and prolonged political instability.