Guinea coup leader gets Senegal's backing

(Adds mining, political party comment, voter registration)

By Saliou Samb

CONAKRY, Dec 27 - Guinea's military junta was boosted by the endorsement of neighbouring Senegal as it attempted to garner international backing, and lifted a curfew while the streets of Conakry remained calm on Saturday.

Captain Moussa Dadis Camara's supporters, who seized power in the world's top bauxite exporter after the death of President Lansana Conte earlier this week and have since been acclaimed by Guinean military, politicians and the public, had previously asked for international support.

"I had a telephone conversation with Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who calls me 'Papa,'" Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade said in comments broadcast on Radio France International, and reported prominently in Senegalese newspapers.

"He is a young man who seemed sincere in what he said," the octogenarian president said.

"My feeling is that this group of military men deserves support. We should not throw stones at them," Wade said.

The presidents of neighbouring Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Ivory Coast were present at a formal ceremony in Conakry on Friday, but the international community outside West Africa has condemned the coup.

The United States, the African Union and the European Union have all spoken out against the military takeover.

Mauritania's first freely elected leader was overthrown by soldiers in August, while Kenya and Zimbabwe have suffered violent post-election crises.

POOR DESPITE INVESTMENT Camara's National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD) has promised to hold elections in 2010, fight corruption and improve living conditions in Guinea, where most people are poor despite mineral deposits that have attracted billions of dollars in investment from international mining firms.

Camara said badly-structured mining deals would be revised, though he did not name any companies or mining concessions.

"If the contracts are defective, experts will study them and they will be revised," he said, speaking at the Alpha Yaya Diallo military camp in Conakry.

Rio Tinto Alcan, Alcoa and Russia's United Company Rusal all mine aluminium ore bauxite in the former French colony, which also has the potential to become a major source of steelmaking raw material iron ore. A firm owned by Israeli diamond dealer Beny Steinmetz earlier this month said it had won the rights to a large Guinean iron ore project.

Mining operations have not so far been affected by the coup, though analysts have said the foreign firms may be targeted as sources of cash.

The coup leaders have said they want to draw a line under Conte's quarter century in office, which concentrated power in the hands of a small political, military and business elite.

Senegal's Wade suggested elections could be held earlier than the date of 2010 given by the CNDD, which said it wanted to begin the process of voter registration immediately.

Junta leader Camara, until recently a little-known captain in the army supply corps, has been greeted as a hero by crowds in Conakry. Even opposition parties have cautiously welcomed the military coup, but have called for elections to be held in 2009.

Alpha Conde, leader of the Guinean People's Assembly, a political party which opposed President Conte's rule, described the CNDD as "patriots" after a meeting with Camara on Saturday.

Deposed Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare endorsed the military takeover on Thursday, reversing his initial opposition.

Camara's CNDD lifted on Saturday a dawn-to-dusk curfew that was on Friday night enforced by soldiers firing shots into the air. "Anxious to establish a climate of peace, the CNDD has decided to lift the previously installed curfew, from Saturday," it said. The junta postponed until Tuesday a meeting with foreign diplomats which had been scheduled for Saturday.