AFP - Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade called on the international community Friday to recognise the military junta that seized power in neighbouring Guinea after the death of President Lansana Conte.
"I think that this group of soldiers deserves to be backed," Wade told reporters at Senegal's embassy in Paris, shortly after talking by telephone to Moussa Dadis Camara, putsch leader and self-declared president of Guinea.
Wade, a key African ally of Guinea's former colonial power France, is the first head of state to come out in support of the coup, which has been roundly condemned by the European Union, the United States and the African Union.
The veteran Senegalese president said he had been asked by Camara to serve as his spokesman to the rest of the world, and described the army captain as an honest young man who had taken power to fill a dangerous power vacuum.
Camara seized power this week after the death of Conte, a 74-year-old dictator who had come to power in a coup of his own 24 years earlier.
The new junta has promised to hold elections in December 2010, but the international community has demanded a much more rapid return to elected rule.
Wade, an influential figure in his troubled region, called for patience.
"This is the first time that the military has said, 'We'll organise elections and return to our barracks'," Wade said.
"I call on all countries, the European Union, and in particular France, not to throw the first stone, but to take this group at their word."
France had earlier insisted Guinea hold free and transparent elections within six months. Foreign diplomats based in Guinea's capital Conakry are to meet on Saturday, and no government has yet recognised the new regime.
"If you want elections where the people can express themselves clearly, you're going to need to draw up a voter register. That takes time. It wouldn't be technically possible to hold elections within two months," Wade said.
Wade said he thought it would take at least eight months to hold a poll.
Asked whether Camara would himself be candidate for president, Wade said: "That's not his strategy. He's a pure young man who wants to do what's right and has no political ambition. He seems completely honest to me.
"The captain asked me to be his interpreter to Guineans, to the opposition, to ECOWAS, to the African Union, the European Union, the United States, the World Bank and international institutions," he continued.
Wade said Camara's message to the world was: "We took power to head off tribal clashes. Our intention is not to stay in power. We want to put a new president in place and return to barracks."
Conte was buried Friday in a ceremony attended by tens of thousands of Guineans, including Camara's deputy.