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Guinea plunges into turmoil after coup bid

In the aftermath of strongman Lansana Conte's death, Guinea entered a turbulent political phase with a group of military coup plotters announcing the formation of a ruling council while the government declared it is still in power.


REUTERS - Guinea faced political turmoil after the death of veteran President Lansana Conte opened a power vacuum and triggered a coup attempt by mutinous soldiers.


There was confusion over who was really in charge of the West African state, the world's No. 1 exporter of the aluminium ore bauxite, following an attempted takeover by a group of officers and soldiers calling for an anti-corruption clean-up.


Only hours after Conte's death from illness was announced on Tuesday, the group styling itself the National Council for Democracy and Development and operating from the capital's main military base announced it was suspending the constitution and government in a broadcast from the seized state radio HQ.


But the country's civilian leaders and top military commander, pledging loyalty to the constitution, said the administration led by Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare remained in office and that the coup-plotters were a minority.


Armed forces chief General Diarra Camara tried to negotiate with the mutinous soldiers to persuade them to accept constitutional provisions under which National Assembly President Aboubacar Sompare should automatically take over as interim successor to Conte after his death.


"I appeal to them to remain calm and loyal," Camara said. He added they should keep their grievances until after the country had given funeral honours to the long-serving Conte.


The diabetic, chain-smoking reclusive president, who was believed to be 74, had ruled the impoverished former French colony with an iron hand since taking power in a 1984 coup.


Analysts predicted the passing of Conte, who had relied on the fractious military to keep him in power and survived a number of coup plots, would trigger renewed instability marked by military, political and possibly inter-ethnic infighting.


"Expect several months of political chaos with a high possibility of further coups, counter coups, and sham elections amid a period of ethnic and political disequilibrium," Sebastian Spio-Garbrah of the Eurasia Group consultancy said.


The European Union, the African Union and the United States called for constitutional order to be respected and expressed firm opposition to any move to take power by military force.






Although residents reported some shots fired near the Alpha Yaya Diallo camp in Conakry where the coup plotters were based, there were no major clashes in the city. Heavily armed groups of soldiers guarded key locations and patrolled the streets.


The country's important bauxite mining operations and shipments, run by major international companies, were not immediately affected by the latest crisis.


But analysts said the likelihood of further conflict was high in a volatile country which has seen bloody strikes, riots and military mutinies intensify in recent years.


"The future for the world's premier bauxite producer is undoubtedly tenuous," Kissy Agyeman, Africa analyst with IHS Global Insight, said in a briefing note.


"There will be a real need for the international community to intervene to prevent the rapid implosion of the state, which would have destabilising consequences for its neighbours and for investments in the country," Agyeman added.


If constitutional procedure is respected, National Assembly chief Sompare would take over after Conte and organise elections within two months. Legislative elections are already due to be held in 2009.


Eurasia Group's Spio-Garbrah said that even if the government and the coup plotters reached a compromise on forming a transitional administration to organise elections, it was questionable how long this could last.


"The newly elected government will likely live under the constant shadow of another army coup. It could take three to five years before any long-lasting political equilibrium is established in Guinea," he added.


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