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World News

Guinea coup leader gets Senegal's backing

CONAKRY (Reuters) - Guinea’s military junta was boosted by the endorsement of neighboring Senegal as it attempted to garner international backing, and, after meeting political parties on Saturday, promised to stamp out the burgeoning drugs trade.

Captain Moussa Dadis Camara waves as he tours Conakry in this December 24, 2008 picture. REUTERS/Saliou Samb

Captain Moussa Dadis Camara’s supporters, who seized power in the world’s top bauxite exporter after the death of President Lansana Conte earlier this week and have since been acclaimed by Guinean military, politicians and the public, had previously asked for international support.

“I had a telephone conversation with Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who calls me ‘Papa,’” Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade said in comments broadcast on Radio France International, and reported prominently in Senegalese newspapers.

“He is a young man who seemed sincere in what he said,” the octogenarian president said.

“My feeling is that this group of military men deserves support. We should not throw stones at them,” Wade said.

The presidents of neighboring Liberia, Sierra Leone, Guinea-Bissau and Ivory Coast were present at a formal ceremony in Conakry on Friday, but the international community outside West Africa has condemned the coup.

Camara’s National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD) met other Guinean political parties on Saturday, and made its first ministerial appointment.

The CNDD has promised to hold elections in 2010, fight corruption and improve living conditions in Guinea, where most people are poor despite mineral deposits that have attracted billions of dollars in investment from foreign mining firms.

MINING DEALS

Camara said badly structured mining deals would be revised, though he did not name any companies or mining concessions.

“If the contracts are defective, experts will study them and they will be revised,” he said, speaking at the Alpha Yaya Diallo military camp in Conakry.

Rio Tinto Alcan, Alcoa and Russia’s United Company Rusal mine bauxite in the former French colony. A firm owned by Israeli diamond dealer Beny Steinmetz said this month it had won the rights to a large Guinean iron ore project.

Camara promised to crack down on the drugs trade, which U.N. experts earlier this year said may turn the coastal country into a cocaine smuggling hub.

“From now on, if an individual takes part in selling drugs, or is involved in the drugs trade, that individual will be punished,” said Camara, who previously announced he would not stand for president in the promised 2010 elections.

Camara appointed army battalion commander Sekouba Konate as Defense Minister, and told other political parties he was open to talks about the exact timing of elections scheduled for 2009.

He said the CNDD would take control of public finances.

“I have told the finance minister that from today, no money is to be spent without the agreement of the CNDD,” Camara said.

The coup leaders have said they want to draw a line under Conte’s quarter century in office, which concentrated power in the hands of a small political, military and business elite.

Senegal’s Wade suggested elections could be held earlier than the date of 2010 given by the CNDD, which said it wanted to begin the process of voter registration immediately.

Camara, until recently a little-known captain in the supply corps, has been greeted as a hero by crowds in Conakry. Even opposition parties have cautiously welcomed the military coup, but have called for elections to be held in 2009.

Alpha Conde, leader of the Guinean People’s Assembly, a political party which opposed President Conte’s rule, described the CNDD as “patriots” after a meeting with Camara on Saturday.

Camara’s CNDD lifted a curfew on Saturday. The junta postponed until Tuesday a meeting with foreign diplomats which had been scheduled for Saturday.

Writing by Daniel Magnowski; Editing by Giles Elgood

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