(Updates death toll)
CONAKRY, July 17 (Reuters) - Guinea sent troops to towns in the southeast on Wednesday in a bid to stem three days of ethnic violence in which at least 54 people have been killed, the government said.
Guinea’s second city of Nzerekore and the surrounding region near the border with Ivory Coast have been gripped by clashes between rival communities after a man accused of being a thief was lynched on Sunday.
After several days of clashes between ethnic gangs, residents said security forces arrived in Nzerekore and the nearby towns of Beyla and Koule, where the initial killing took place.
Government spokesman Damantang Albert Camara said calm had been restored and about 50 people arrested.
“Among some 131 people hurt in the violence, there are 54 dead,” Camara said.
The fighting came shortly after Guinea’s rival political parties agreed to hold legislative elections on Sept. 24 after months of deadlock and street protests, which often degenerated into ethnic clashes.
The poll is meant to be the final step in the return to civilian rule after a 2008 coup.
President Alpha Conde won a 2010 presidential election but his rivals accuse him of seeking to rig the legislative vote. Conde draws support from Guinea’s second-largest ethnic group, the Malinke, while the opposition is backed by the Peul, who account for around 40 percent of the population.
Mineral-rich Guinea is the world’s largest bauxite exporter, and mining firms have signed multi-billion dollar deals in a bid to secure untapped mineral riches, especially iron ore. However, political instability has led to some investment being frozen. (Reporting by Saliou Samb; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Daniel Flynn)