Thousands in Guinea demand graft-free vote

CONAKRY Mon Feb 18, 2013 10:23pm EST

1 of 3. Main opposition figure Cellou Dalein Diallo (L), who was defeated by President Alpha Conde in the 2010 election, takes part in an opposition protest to demand a free and fair parliamentary election, on the streets of the capital Conakry February 18, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Saliou Samb

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CONAKRY (Reuters) - Opposition supporters held protests across Guinea on Monday to demand a free and fair parliamentary election, fearing the first such vote in more than a decade will be cheapened by fraud.

The May 12 election is intended to be the last step in Guinea's return to civilian rule following the death of veteran strongman Lansana Conte in 2008 and two years of violent army rule.

President Alpha Conde was elected in 2010 and has promised prosperity for Guinea's 10 million people.

The West African nation's economy produces only about $1.50 per person per day despite a wealth of natural resources, including the world's largest untapped iron ore deposit.

But delays in the legislative vote have deepened a political deadlock and led to intermittent violence, unnerving investors as they wait to tap into Guinea's abundant iron ore, bauxite and gold reserves.

Opponents of Conde say preparations for the long-delayed vote have been flawed.

They point to a contract awarded to two companies to update the voter roll, saying the two firms have been skewing the list to favor the president's allies.

"The opposition will not accept dictatorship, the violation of the constitution or laws of the Republic," said former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo. "If Mr Alpha Conde continues to violate these laws then we'll ask him to leave."

The European Union, one of Guinea's major donors, warned in November that it needed a credible and detailed timeline for the election to unblock about 174 million euros ($234.28 million).

The EU and other donors also want a vote that is inclusive, free and fair. Conde, who spent many years in the opposition, needs a smooth vote to entrench his legitimacy.

MINOR CLASH IN CONAKRY

About 10,000 protesters took to the streets of the capital Conakry on Monday, according to opposition estimates.

Shops in Conakry's main Madina market shut as protesters converged near the city centre, blocking traffic.

The government said a 4,000-strong security contingent, including armed police with truncheons and anti-riot gear, had been deployed on the streets to keep order.

There were no reports of violence beside a minor clash between some opposition and ruling party supporters in one Conakry neighborhood, government spokesman Damantang Albert Camara said.

The Ministry of Health said seven people had been lightly injured in the capital, including four injured by thrown stones.

"The people have come out to say no to dictatorship, no to attempts to organize electoral fraud, and to demand free and fair elections," Mouctar Diallo, an opposition party leader, told journalists in Conakry.

"We are also demanding that the contract awarded to the companies be terminated and that Guineans abroad should be allowed to vote," Diallo said.

The opposition has vowed to continue the protest throughout the week and organize national strikes until the government accepts its demands.

"The demonstration is just the beginning today. It is not going to stop," said Ibrahima Sory Bangura of the main opposition UFDG party.

(Writing by Bate Felix and John Irish; Editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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