At least five killed as Guinea protests escalate

CONAKRY Sat May 25, 2013 4:28pm EDT

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CONAKRY (Reuters) - At least five people were killed on Saturday when security forces in Guinea opened fire on protesters in opposition strongholds in the capital, medical sources and witnesses said.

The violence brings to 11 the number of people killed since Thursday in unrest that began over election preparations but has frequently degenerated into looting and clashes between ethnic groups.

"According to our information, they (the five) all died after being shot," said Thierno Maadjou Sow, president of the OGDH human rights group.

A doctor who runs a private medical clinic said there were many wounded, including two girls between the ages of six and eight who had been hit by gunfire.

Government spokesman Damantang Albert Camara confirmed the toll since Thursday had risen to 11 with Saturday's deaths.

"Rest assured that we are in the process of taking steps to stop this escalation of violence," he said without giving details.

Legislative elections are intended to complete Guinea's transition to civilian rule following a military coup in 2008. The opposition accuses the government of trying to rig the vote, due on June 30, and regional diplomats have struggled to get both sides to take part in talks to reduce tensions.

The ruling party draws on the Malinke community for much of its support while the opposition is dominated by the Peul ethnic group.

Global miners like Rio Tinto, BHP Billiton and Brazil's Vale have slowed billions of dollars of investments in the west African nation, citing political uncertainty as one of the reasons.

(Reporting by Saliou Samb; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Andrew Roche)

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