World News

Security forces break up Guinea opposition funeral march

CONAKRY (Reuters) - Security forces fired warning shots and teargas to disperse thousands of opposition supporters marching in the coastal capital Conakry on Friday to mark the funerals of nine people killed in more than a week of violence.

Activists have taken to the streets several times over the past 10 days, accusing President Alpha Conde of planning to rig upcoming legislative elections in the mineral-rich West African country.

Security forces opened fire as the crowd approached a police post in the neighbourhood of Bambeto, near Conakry’s international airport, said witnesses.

“The crowd has dispersed ... We can still hear the shooting,” resident Souleymane Bah told Reuters by phone. Police reinforcements were arriving on the scene, he added.

Guinea’s notoriously ill-disciplined security forces have a history of brutal crackdowns on protests. At least nine people have been killed and hundreds injured since the opposition started rallying in the capital on February 27.

The disturbances have also spread to several towns in Guinea’s interior.

“What has happened must not discourage us,” said former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo, now an opposition leader, in a speech before police broke up the march. “We must continue our struggle so all Guineans are treated equally.”

Guinea is the world’s top supplier of the aluminium ore bauxite and holds rich deposits of iron ore. But political turmoil has unnerved investors.

The vote, scheduled for May 12, is meant to complete a transition to civilian rule after a 2008 military coup, thereby unlocking hundreds of millions of dollars in European aid.

Conde’s government met an opposition delegation on Monday to try to resolve the election dispute - though the main opposition leaders did not attend the meeting in protest at security forces’ use of violence.

Government spokesman Damantang Albert Camara said authorities had offered to allow civil society groups and foreign diplomats to act as independent observers of the electoral process.

“The opposition should accept that as a guarantee,” he said, referring to the observers. “We hope the opposition’s demands are not just a way of dodging the discussion. That would really be a pity.”

The opposition has demanded the government replace the South African firm Waymark, saying there were irregularities when it was awarded a contract to update the electoral register. Activists also want the right to vote for Guineans overseas.

“We do not agree with the framework we are being offered,” said opposition spokesman Aboubacar Sylla. “We want the activities of the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI) to be frozen immediately so the conclusions of this dialogue can be applied.”

Behind Guinea’s political feuding there is a deep-rooted rivalry between the Malinke and the Peul, its two largest ethnic groups. The Malinke broadly support Conde, who comes from that ethnic group, while the opposition draws heavily from the Peul.

Reporting by Saliou Samb; Editing by Andrew Heavens