Protesters ransack government buildings in Guinea smelting town

CONAKRY Thu Feb 27, 2014 11:21am EST

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CONAKRY (Reuters) - Protesters angered by the death of a young man in police custody ransacked a police station and government buildings in Guinea's main aluminum smelting town on Wednesday, local residents said.

Work at Russian aluminum giant RUSAL's Friguia refinery has been suspended since April 2012, hitting household incomes hard and aggravating social unrest in the town of Fria, 160 km (99 miles) north of the capital Conakry.

Protesters threw stones and burned tires in the town's streets, before attacking the police station.

"The municipal police station is looted. The youth are in the streets showing their anger after the death of their friend," Fria resident Mamadou Gueye told Reuters.

"The few gendarmes and police officers who were on duty have fled the city," he said.

It was unclear why the young man had been taken into custody by the police. But town residents told Reuters he had been beaten to death.

Government officials did not immediately respond to Reuters' requests for comment.

"There are no authorities right now. We're not seeing the mayor or the prefect ... no one," said a second Fria resident, who asked not to be named.

The violence comes little over a week after two people were killed and 30 others were injured when protests against frequent power cuts in Conakry turned violent.

Guinea is the world's top supplier of bauxite, the raw material used in aluminium production, but more than 40 percent of the West African nation's citizens live on less than $1.25 a day.

RUSAL suspended operations at the 630,000 ton-per-year Friguia refinery amid a workers' strike over wages.

A spokeswoman for RUSAL said the strike was illegal. She said the management of the refinery had been forced to leave Fria due to security reasons while the control of the facility was illegally taken over by the union.

A union spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

(Reporting by Saliou Samb; Writing by Joe Bavier; editing by Ralph Boulton and David Evans)

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