CONAKRY (Reuters) - Sporadic violence hit Guinea’s capital and several regions on Tuesday after opposition leader Alpha Conde was declared winner in a hotly contested presidential poll aimed at restoring civilian rule.
Authorities in the West African country called on security forces to refrain from using firearms after an unconfirmed report of one death and dozens wounded in their clashes with rock-throwing youths in the outskirts of Conakry.
Armed men held up buses in the northern Labe region, a stronghold of ex-premier and poll loser Cellou Dalein Diallo, robbing and sometimes beating up passengers, caretaker prime minister Jean-Marie Dore said.
“That is why I have asked the governor of Labe region to enforce a curfew until order returns,” he told state television, adding that he had also replaced the civilian prefect of the nearby town of Pita with a gendarme after reports of unrest.
After a tense wait for election results, Guinea’s election commission late on Monday named veteran opposition leader Conde winner of the November 7 election with 52.5 percent of the vote in the world’s top bauxite exporter.
The poll was Guinea’s first free vote since independence from France in 1958 and is meant to draw a line under almost two years of military rule. It is also hoped to provide legal certainty for billions of dollars of recent investment by mining firms in Guinea’s bauxite and iron ore riches.
All-night celebrations by Conde supporters were tainted by bursts of gunfire in the streets of the capital before a return to calm allowed Conde to do a victory tour of the town center.
But residents in Diallo’s strongholds in the outskirts of Conakry reported security forces shooting to keep people indoors while youths threw rocks at them. One human rights group accused security forces with a record of poor discipline of using excessive force.
In his first statement after the result, Conde said he wanted to be a president of reconciliation and hinted at some role for Diallo in a future government, though gave no details.
“Time has come to reach out in a spirit of brotherhood to tackle together and immediately, the numerous challenges the country faces,” Conde said on French radio RFI.
“That will only be possible in a calm atmosphere and with the cooperation of all Guineans,” he said of an accord between Diallo and Conde before the election to include whoever lost in any future government.
Diallo also urged his supporters to remain calm even as he mounts a legal challenge to the results in the Supreme Court, citing evidence of electoral fraud. The Supreme Court has eight days to make its ruling.
“The leaders must do everything possible to maintain an atmosphere of calm,” Said Djinnit, the United Nations’s top official in West Africa, told Reuters.
“I see defense forces doing their utmost to exercise restraint, but they don’t always succeed,” Djinnit added.
Residents in Cosa, Bambeto and Simbaya — Diallo strongholds on the outskirts of Conakry — said there had been bursts of gunfire overnight and into Tuesday morning as residents woke to try and celebrate the Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha.
“The (presidential guard) is forcing us to stay inside. There is lots of shooting and the youth are fighting back by throwing stones,” said Souleymane Bah, a Bambeto resident.
Calm was restored later but several dozen people had been wounded and at least one person died during a security crackdown that began on Monday, according to Human Rights Watch.
“In the face of such high levels of communal tensions, the security forces need to act assertively, yet, use all means necessary before resorting to force, especially lethal force,” said Corinne Dufka, the group’s senior West Africa researcher.
“Chasing people inside their homes, beating them severely, and shooting them unnecessarily crosses this line,” she added.
Additional reporting by Richard Valdmanis and David Lewis; Writing by Mark John; Editing by Charles Dick