Guinea employers confident strike will be averted

(Adds religious leader, civil servant comment)

CONAKRY, Jan 9 (Reuters) - The head of Guinea's employers' federation and religious leaders said they believed a general strike could be averted in the world's top bauxite exporter as talks with union leaders went into a third day.

The West African country's powerful unions last week called the general strike from Thursday in protest at President Lansana Conte's dismissal of a member of a consensus government put in place to end unrest almost a year ago.

The protests in January and February 2007, which came on the back of a union-led national strike, killed more than 130 people and caused major disruption to shipments of bauxite, the ore used to make aluminium, hurting an already fragile economy.

"Given the discussions we have had, I have the feeling that we are heading towards a suspension of the strike," Youssouf Diallo, head of the employers' federation, told national television late on Tuesday after meeting union leaders.

Prime Minister Lansana Kouyate was due to hold discussions with the country's political parties on Wednesday ahead of talks with the unions, civil society groups and religious leaders who have in the past been key to brokering agreements.

"Apparently, and I am weighing my words carefully, there are some possibilities for avoiding another strike," Guinea's Anglican bishop Albert Gomez said.

Former diplomat Kouyate was selected by Conte in February from a list of candidates for the premiership drafted by the unions -- the key condition for ending the protests sparked by high inflation, rampant unemployment and widespread graft.

The unions say Conte's sacking last week of Communications Minister Justin Morel Junior and a Dec. 5 decree handing control of government business to a close ally break the terms of that power-sharing deal.


Union negotiator Boubacar Biro Barry said the strike threat was maintained while negotiations continued.

"We are not in a race against the clock and it is not a question of totally renegotiating (last year's) deal. We are not constrained by time because it only takes 30 minutes to find a solution," Biro Barry told Reuters.

Support for another strike appears to be waning, with the ruling Progress and Unity Party (PUP) saying it would plunge the former French colony back into chaos and some opposition parties also saying they oppose it.

"The central bank is better managed, projects are in a good shape, electricity and water supplies are improving. ... Everyone knows we could do better but it's bad faith not to recognise the undeniable progress," said civil servant Mohamed Diawara.

Human rights groups have accused the police and military of grave abuses during a crackdown on the protests a year ago against Conte, who has exerted tight control over the former French colony since seizing power in 1984.

At least one person was killed on Friday when youths burned tyres, erected barricades and pelted vehicles with stones in poor parts of Conakry, scenes reminiscent of last year's unrest.

Union leaders urged their supporters to show restraint.

"The unions do not want to burn this country ... but we've been forced to raise the alarm," said Rabiatou Serah Diallo, secretary general of the Guinean National Workers Confederation. (Writing by Nick Tattersall, editing by Mary Gabriel)