* Around 50 wounded in street battles
* Ethnically tinged political tension high over vote delay
(Adds president's speech, number of injured, and reports of one
By Saliou Samb
CONAKRY, Sept 21 Opposition and government
supporters clashed in Guinea's capital on Friday, throwing
rocks, smashing car windows and burning tyres in an outburst of
ethnically-tinged political violence that left at least one man
Tensions are high in the coup-prone West African state over
long-delayed parliamentary elections, which the opposition says
the government plans to rig.
Protesters blocked Conakry's main bridge and barricaded
other roadways, with running clashes forcing local residents to
lock themselves indoors, according to witnesses, who said
security forces were deployed but did not intervene.
"They are throwing everything they get their hands on," said
Ibrahima Keita, an army officer. "There are many wounded here at
the gendarmerie and the Red Cross is coming to get them."
Authorities have not said how many people were wounded in
the violence, but around 50 people were treated for injuries at
Conakry's largest hospital, according to a hospital official.
Seven gendarmes were also wounded, a government minister said.
At least one person was killed in the clashes, a young man
shot in the head, according to witnesses.
One witness told Reuters the fighting started after ethnic
Peul merchants found their market stalls ransacked Friday
morning, and blamed ethnic Malinkes.
Guinea's opposition is mostly made up of Peul, the country's
largest ethnic group, which has long complained of being
politically sidelined by the Malinkes.
President Alpha Conde, a Malinke, was elected in late 2010
in a vote that ended military rule but which was tainted by
deadly riots and opposition complaints of fraud.
Since then, the opposition has staged sporadic protests in
Conakry and other towns, several of which have triggered violent
In a speech to be broadcast on national television on Friday
night, Conde called the violence "unacceptable" and appealed for
"These jolts, this violence yesterday and this morning aim
to create a climate of tension to panic the population and
discourage investors. We must not cede to these provocations,"
read an advance copy of the speech seen by Reuters.
"I want Guinea to be a haven of peace and liberty. I want
public safety guaranteed for all."
Conde's government is trying to organise legislative
elections, but progress has been slowed by opposition worries
that the electoral body is biased.
The election is the last major step in the transition back
to civilian rule in the former French colony since a 2008 coup,
and is key to unlocking millions of dollars in frozen aid.
Guinea is the world's top supplier of the aluminium ore
bauxite and holds rich deposits of iron ore, but political
turmoil has cooled the investment climate.
The opposition wants the government to fire South African
firm Waymark, which won a contract to handle the electoral
register for the vote.
"We demand an international bidding process for finding a
new technical operator," said Aboubacar Sylla, a spokesman for
In a major concession, Conde accepted the resignation of the
head of the electoral commission earlier this month and agreed
to restructure it to better represent the opposition.
Sylla said the move was a step in the right direction but
did not fully address concerns that the elections would be
flawed. An opposition march on Thursday over the election passed
While Conde's government has said it hopes to hold the polls
by the end of this year, technical experts and Western diplomats
say an election would not be physically possible before March at
The International Monetary Fund is set to decide by the end
of the month whether Guinea is eligible for some $2 billion in
debt relief under the Heavily Indebted Poor Countries programme,
which would free up funds for development.
(Writing by Richard Valdmanis; editing by Andrew Roche)