January 6, 2010 / 8:44 PM / 10 years ago

Guinea junta offers steps towards civilian rule

CONAKRY (Reuters) - Guinea’s deputy junta chief pledged on Wednesday to pave the way for a return to civilian rule and announced that military leader Moussa Dadis Camara would need time to recover after an assassination bid.

The comments by Sekouba Konate on state television were the clearest signal yet that Camara’s political future was in doubt after a December 3 gun attack, and offered a possible way out of the deepening crisis in the unstable West African state, the world’s top exporter of the aluminum ore bauxite.

“His life is not in danger but it will need time and patience, and medical attention for some time for him to recover fully,” said Konate, who is also defense minister.

“We need to act to restore peace and the unity of all Guineans, and to put our state and political system on a new foundation,” he said, promising to accept a prime minister drawn from the opposition as part of national unity government.

Camara, who took power in a bloodless coup in December 2008 after the death of President Lansana Conte, has not been seen in public for over a month since he was evacuated for treatment in Morocco following the December 3 assassination bid by an ex-aide.

He and his junta allies became the subject of international outrage and sanctions after security forces killed more than 150 people and raped scores of women protesting in a Conakry stadium on September 28.

NEW ELECTION DATE

Konate, a professional soldier with no known ambitions for a front-line political role, visited Camara in hospital this week and held talks with U.S. and French diplomats who urged him to allow a return to civilian rule in Camara’s absence.

Konate said on Wednesday he expected a transitional government to choose a new election date after a poll — initially set for this month — was delayed by the crisis.

“The most important thing is to ... re-establish confidence between the government and those being governed,” Konate said.

While it was unclear if Konate will replace Camara in any transitional government, he said he would not cling to power.

“I wouldn’t hesitate for a moment to step down if I got the impression I was preaching in the desert and was going against history and the will of the people,” he said.

Camara outraged many Guineans after refusing to opt out of elections, breaking a promise he made shortly after the coup which lifted him to power.

Instability in the West African nation contributed to a nearly 23 percent decline in aluminum ore bauxite exports during the first nine months of 2009, according to a government report obtained by Reuters last month.

Among possible opposition candidates for prime minister in a transitional government are Jean Marie Dore, Francois Lonceny Fall and Sidya Toure.

Like Camara, Dore hails from Guinea’s Forestiere region, home to several minority ethnic groups that have long felt under-represented in power.

An opposition leader welcomed Konate’s announcement but said the success of the transitional government will depend on the powers given to the prime minister.

“The important thing is not the choice of the person. The fundamental thing is the mandate, the powers and responsibilities of the new prime minister,” said Oury Bah, a senior member of the UFDG opposition party.

Writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Jon Hemming

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