Guinea poised for referendum date despite protests

Conakry (AFP) –


Guinea's President Alpha Conde is set to hold a constitutional referendum next month, government sources said, despite protests led by an opposition alliance fearful that the poll is a ploy to enable him to stay in office.

The announcement of a referendum date is likely to further heighten tensions in the West African nation of 13 million people, most of whom live in poverty despite considerable mineral resources.

On Thursday, three people were killed in clashes with security forces in the opposition stronghold of Labe, the city's mayor said.

At least 26 civilians and one gendarme have died in protests to date, according to an AFP tally.

The referendum may be held simultaneously with parliamentary elections on February 16, a source close to the president's office told AFP Thursday, asking not to be named.

The cabinet asked the 81-year-old Conde "to fix an appropriate date for holding the referendum", the government said in a statement late Thursday.

"This electoral timetable will be the object of a presidential decree," it said.

Guinea has seen major demonstrations against Conde's rule since mid-October, with a harsh crackdown.

Jailed under previous hardline regimes, Conde became Guinea's first democratically elected president in 2010 and was returned to office by voters in 2015 for his second and final five-year term under the current constitution.

When he announced his plan of putting a new constitution to the electorate in December, the opposition voiced suspicions that he sought to start his time in office afresh with an election late in 2020.

A draft constitution presented in December still limits the number of presidential terms to two.

Conde has simply argued that laws from the French colonial era need to be amended, with no reference to the presidential mandate.

Tens of thousands of people have been called out on the streets against a possible third term by an alliance of opposition parties, trade unions and civil society organisations.

Conde on Thursday ordered his security and justice ministers "to take all necessary steps to restore peace and security in the zones that have been affected in the past few days by acts of disorder, looting and vandalism," according to the government.