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Funeral held for longtime former leader Conte

Over 30,000 mourners gathered in Conakry for the funeral of Guinea's longtime former leader Lansana Conte. Watch FRANCE 24's exclusive interview with junta leader Moussa Dadis Camara (sidebar) and field reportage by Catherine Norris-Trent.


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AFP - Guinea paid its final respects Friday to the late dictator Lansana Conte as the military junta that seized control in the wake of his death planned a charm offensive to gain international legitimacy.

Supporters and even critics of the veteran strongman, who ruled with an iron fist for 24 years, took part in mourning ceremonies which began with the arrival of his coffin at the parliament in Conakry where hundreds had gathered.

Thousands were also expected to attend a special service in the national stadium later in the day before Conte's coffin is then brought to his village of Lansanaya, around 120 kilometers (75 miles) north-west of Conakry.

Despite frequently denouncing Conte for "pillaging" the country, trade union leaders were among those paying respect with messages of condolence to his family.

Among the mourners for Conte -- who himself came to power in a coup -- were neighbouring Sierra Leone's President Ernest Bai Koroma, Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Laurent Gbagbo, the president of Ivory Coast.

But as the country's long-time ruler was being laid to rest, the mid-ranking officer who seized power within hours of Conte's death was trying to win over international critics.

Moussa Dadis Camara, who now styles himself as president, has invited envoys from the Group of Eight, United Nations, European Union and African Union to meet with him this weekend "to reassure the international community."

The military junta, in a statement read on national radio, said it would first hold an "informational meeting" Saturday morning (1000 GMT) with "representatives of civil society, political parties, religious faiths and unions."

A second meeting would take place at noon (1200 GMT) "in order to reassure the international community."

Camara, a captain who had been running the army's fuel depot, has already won the allegiance of Conte's premier Ahmed Tidiane Souare who addressed him as "Mr President" as they met at a military barracks Thursday.

Camara, who has already appointed a military-dominated governing council in place of the civilian government, told Souare that he could help him run the country but left no doubt who was now in charge.

"Yesterday, you were in power, today it's our turn," he said.

"You can go back to business, let us just avoid armed conflict which would drag our country into fratricidal war.

"We helped you, you must help us," he added in a meeting at a military camp witnessed by journalists.

Souare replied that he and his ministers were ready to serve the junta and made a point of referring to Camara as president.

"We are at your complete disposal," Souare said.

"We thank you once again for your wisdom, Mr President."

The prime minister and his cabinet had turned themselves in after an order to do so from the junta that seized control on Tuesday within hours of Conte's death at the age of 74.

Camara had warned that if all top military brass and government members did not turn themselves in by the end of Thursday, "a sweep of the entire national territory will be organised."

The junta has promised elections in December 2010 and Camara told the prime minister that military rule was only temporary.

The coup, however, has met with widespread international criticism, particularly of Camara's decision to rule out elections for at least two years.

France, the former colonial power, said it wanted to see "a peaceful, ordered and democratic transition" and the holding of "free and transparent elections which should be organised soon and under international monitoring."

The United States demanded an immediate return to civilian rule in the country of 10 million people.

"The United States of America condemns the military coup in Guinea and rejects the communique promising elections in December 2010," said a statement in French 

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