Guinea unions threaten military junta with strike

Wed Dec 2, 2009 2:20pm EST

* Unions seek compensation for dead, double civil wages

* More pressure on leadership in top bauxite exporter

CONAKRY, Dec 2 (Reuters) - Guinean workers may strike unless the ruling military junta pays compensation for those who died during a bloody crackdown on protesters on Sept. 28, union leaders said in a document seen by Reuters on Wednesday.

The threat by the unions, which also want a doubling of civil servants' wages and the release of political prisoners, ramps up pressure on the leadership of Captain Musa Dadis Camara, who is already facing international outrage and sanctions after the shooting of unarmed demonstrators.

"Failure to meet these demands obliges the central trade unions of Guinea to use all legal means to attain the legitimate aspirations of the workers ..." the document said, giving a deadline of the end of December.

A general strike in Guinea could affect bauxite exports from the world's biggest supplier and raise tension in a nation bordering Sierra Leone, Ivory Coast, and Liberia -- three countries still recovering from civil war.

United Nations experts are currently in Guinea to investigate human rights violations in the wake of the September crackdown, in which gunmen opened fire on a gathering in a Conakry stadium and killed more than 150 people.

A local human rights group said last week that 100 women had been raped during the same violent incident.

The unions said in the document that their demands were further justified by the rapid devaluation of the Guinean franc since the Sept. 28 crackdown, which has reduced workers' purchasing power.

A strike by the same unions in 2007 paralyzed the country for weeks and triggered violent clashes between demonstrators and security forces that resulted in deaths.

Camara, who came to power in a coup in December after the death of strongman president Lansana Conte, has denied responsibility for the killings and blamed them on uncontrolled elements in the army.

The former soldier briefly enjoyed popularity among Guineans hoping for a regime less brutal than its predecessor, but lost public support after stepping back from a promise to hand over to civilian rule in elections.

Camara and his junta allies have been comdemned by African neighbours, Washington and Brussels and were hit by travel bans, freezes on bank accounts and an arms embargo.

International efforts to stave off new violence in the country have been complicated by reports Camara has hired foreign mercenaries to train a force to keep him in power. ((Reporting by Saliou Samb; writing by Richard Valdmanis; editing by Tim Pearce; richard.valdmanis@thomsonreuters.com; Dakar newsroom +221 33 864 5076)) (For more Reuters Africa coverage and to have your say on the top issues, visit: af.reuters.com/)

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