February 26, 2020 / 3:34 PM / 3 months ago

Guinea's Conde hints at running for third term, brushing aside protests

PARIS (Reuters) - Guinea’s President Alpha Conde has suggested publicly for the first time that he could run for a third term if the national constitution is changed, a move likely to fuel unrest as the country tries to attract foreign investment to exploit its mineral wealth.

FILE PHOTO: Guinea's President Alpha Conde laughs as he addresses participants of the "G20 Investment Summit - German Business and the CwA Countries 2019" on the sidelines of a Compact with Africa (CwA) in Berlin, Germany November 19, 2019. John MacDougall/Pool via REUTERS

Guineans vote on Sunday in a referendum on constitutional reforms that could allow Conde to stand again, and the prospect of him staying longer in office has already led to months of sometimes violent protests.

His opponents believe that Conde, who became Guinea’s first democratically elected leader in 2010, is becoming increasingly authoritarian and will follow other African leaders who have extended their rule through political machinations.

Conde told le Figaro newspaper that the 2010 constitution was bad and needed modernizing.

“The Guinean people will ask this question: Is it the first time that a president changes the constitution to do a third or fourth term? Why would it be impossible in Guinea to do three mandates?” he said in an interview published on Wednesday.

In some other African countries, leaders have used a constitution change as an excuse to reset their term limits.

“It’s only Guinea that is criticized. Some countries can change constitution four or five times without being criticized,” Conde said, using Chadian President Idriss Deby as an example.

Western and Chinese businesses are also keeping an eye on how events unfold.

The West African nation is rich with natural resources including the world’s largest bauxite reserves, gold, diamond and iron ore.

But investments have stalled due to political instability and a lack of infrastructure and most of its 13 million people live in poverty.

Conde’s first election victory in 2010 raised hopes for democratic progress in the former French colony after two years of military rule and nearly a quarter of a century under authoritarian President Lansana Conte, who died in 2008.

But Conde’s critics accuse him of cracking down on dissent and violently repressing protests - charges he denies. He asked his government last year to draft a new constitution that would permit him to run for office again.

The Paris-based group of French-speaking countries, the Organisation internationale de la Francophone, which had been due to monitor Sunday’s vote, has suspended its support of the ballot.

It questioned the credibility of the vote due to 2.49 million “problematic” entries on the electoral register.

It also called on Guinean authorities “to act quickly to avoid any further loss of human life and to stop any risk of escalation toward violence”.

Conde said he was surprised by the organization’s reaction and accused the opposition of calling for violence and hiring young people to throw stones.

“We will do everything to keep the calm and ensure the population can vote,” Conde said.

Reporting by John Irish; editing by Bate Felix and Angus MacSwan

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