Guinea's ruling military junta called for a government of national unity to be formed Wednesday, and an international inquiry into the bloody crackdown of opponents at a rally earlier this week.
The ruling National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD), led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, has faced a storm of international criticism after a local rights groups said at least 157 people were killed during an opposition rally Monday.
"The CNDD asks for ... the formation of a government of national unity integrating members of different political parties and tasked with the transition," presidency official Mandjou Deoubate said on state television.
The junta, which seized power in a bloodless coup last December, called for an African leader to be appointed mediator, and for "a national and international commission of enquiry with the United Nations to shine a light onto the events of January and February 2007, and September 28 2009," Deoubate said.
Camara who has been in power for nine months also called for an African president to mediate in Guinea.
Earlier in the week the Junta banned all mass gatherings in a bid to defuse protests after the brutal crackdown by soldiers at an opposition rally.
Expressing “regret”, the junta also ordered two days of national mourning.
"Any mass gatherings which are of a subversive nature are banned," junta leader Camara said in a statement on state television on Tuesday. He added that an investigation had been ordered.
"I can't control all the actions of the army"
On Wednesday, the military ruler tried to distance himself from the bloodshed in an interview with French radio station Europe 1, saying: "I was overtaken by events. I can't control all the actions of this army. To say that I control this army would be demagogy."
"I was bequeathed a half-century-old inheritance: an army in which a corporal can say 'screw you' to a colonel or a general," he added.
Guinean human rights groups said that at least 157 people were killed when troops broke-up a huge opposition rally on Monday. Thousands of protesters had gathered in a stadium, in defiance of a previous ban, to oppose junta leader captain Moussa Dadis Camara’s decision to stand for election in a presidential vote scheduled for January 2010.
Meanwhile, opposition leaders remained defiant and the situation was tense in the west African country’s capital, Conakry, where FRANCE 24 correspondent Alhassan Sillah reported that soldiers are patrolling the streets and firing bullets in the air.
Camara seized power in December 2008 after the death of President Lansana Conte. He promised to ensure a transition to civilian rule and that he would not run for presidential office, but has recently angered critics by not ruling out standing in a January election.
Massacre and rape
Soldiers stand accused of hiding bodies killed during the crackdown in a bid to hide the scale of the massacre, according to opposition and human rights groups.
Rights activists reported three more deaths Tuesday in neighbourhoods outside the Guinean capital Conakry. According to Thierno Maadjou Sow, an official with the Guinean Organisation for the Defence of Human Rights, soldiers also kidnapped victims from hospitals.
Mamadi Kaba, head of the Guinean branch of the African Encounter for the Defence of Human Rights (RADDHO), said the rapes of women began in the Conakry stadium.
"The military raped women" at the stadium and later at army barracks, police posts and other parts of Conakry, Kaba said, adding that there were more reports of rape by soldiers on Tuesday.
"Very, very sorry"
Camara has told international media he was “very, very sorry” about the death of protesters.
But he didn’t clarify whether he would take part in the 2010 presidential vote.
In an interview with FRANCE 24, Camara said his candidacy in forthcoming presidential elections had left him "caught between the devil and the deep blue sea".
"I am in a dilemma," he said. "Should I say that I'm not a candidate, and then there are problems, or should I say I am a candidate, and then there are problems too?"
The scale of the bloodshed has already prompted stern international condemnation. Former colonial ruler France slammed the “violent repression exercised by the army against the opposition and civil society during a peaceful demonstration” and immediately suspended its military cooperation with the country.