Military coup follows death of Guinea's president

The Army dissolved government offices just hours after President Lansana Conte's death on Tuesday.

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Hours after the death of Guinea's President Lansana Conte Tuesday, the Army dissolved the government and suspended the Constitution.

The African Union is monitoring developments in the wake of the military takeover as an ensuing power struggle could destabilize the country, which is divided along ethnic lines.

President Conte had been ill for several years, reports the BBC.

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According to the Associated Press, a group called the National Council for Democracy announced the dissolution of the Constitution on Tuesday morning, hours after Mr. Conte's demise.

President Lansana Conte … died Monday night, the country's National Assembly president announced at about 2 a.m.
A uniformed spokesman for a group calling itself the National Council for Democracy began broadcasting its announcement of the takeover at around 7:30 a.m. local time on state-run radio and TV.
"The constitution is dissolved," the unidentified spokesman said. "The government is dissolved. The institutions of the republic are dissolved," he went on. "From this moment on, the council is taking charge of the destiny of the Guinean people."
He said presidential elections will be organized shortly, but did not elaborate.

The identity of the National Council for Democracy spokesman could not be immediately ascertained, reports Reuters Africa.

Journalists at state radio headquarters contacted by Reuters said a group of soldiers had entered the building and forced staff to broadcast the communique….
The identity of the soldiers who made the broadcast was not immediately known and it was not immediately possible to establish whether other government locations and institutions had been taken over by the military.

In the early morning radio address, the spokesman for the council, since identified as Capt. Moussa Dabiss Camara, emphasized the need for a new, ethnically balanced Guinean government, reports Bloomberg. He added that a military official would serve as president alongside a civilian prime minister.

In a statement read on state radio, [Camara] cited "the incapacity of the republican institutions to resolve the crises, the incapacity of the government to supply Guineans with basic social services." He also criticized the government's inability to revise contracts with mining companies.

Before the dissolution of the government was announced, "Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare appeared on state television where he appealed for calm among the 'brave Guinean people' and called on the Army to help keep the peace," reports Agence France-Presse (AFP).

In fact, during the televised broadcast in which the government announced Conte's death, the president of the National Assembly Aboubacar Sompare was seen standing next to the head of the armed forces, suggesting that the military would allow a peaceful, constitutional transfer of power, reports Reuters. By law, Mr. Sompare should lead the country until an election is held within 90 days.

Sompare asked the country's Supreme Court to name him president in line with the Constitution. He was expected to subsequently organise elections to choose a new president.

According to the BBC, Conte's rule had become more oppressive and unconstitutional in the years before his death.

He came to power in 1984 at the head of a military coup to fill the power vacuum that had been left by the sudden death of his predecessor, Sekou Toure, who had been president since independence from France in 1958.
He eventually oversaw a return to civilian rule and was elected three times, although critics said the votes were never free or fair.
As his health declined over the last five years, it was often far from clear who was in charge and the government barely functioned, [a BBC] correspondent says. Some political parties were allowed to operate, but many opposition leaders were either intimidated by the authorities or jailed.

Conte's government was also facing increased protests against its rule, reports Bloomberg.

In early 2007, at least 110 people were killed by security forces after protests demanding Conte's resignation, according to Human Rights Watch. The year before soldiers shot dead 13 unarmed people during demonstrations against rising food prices, the New York-based group said.

The international community is concerned that the ethnically divided Guinea is vulnerable to civil war and may destabilize the region in the wake of Conte's death, reports Al Jazeera.

Richard Cornwell, the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa, said: "We've been expecting for some years that Lansana Conte's health would eventually give in ... and there had been no preparation for any sort of succession….
"What we were really worried about, more than even a coup was the fact that the army might split and this would result in civil war.
"And of course with Guinea, being where it is ... with Sierra Leone and Liberia as its near neighbours, this would be very dangerous in that region."

Specifically, it is feared that the Guinean Army may split along ethnic lines, leading to a conflict, reports the BBC.

The BBC's Will Ross, in Ghana, says it is important to see whether the army is united on the way forward for Guinea, as a power struggle could be extremely dangerous given the deep ethnic divisions there….

The African Union is closely monitoring developments in Guinea, reports AFP.

The African Union is "preoccupied and keenly monitoring" political developments in Guinea after the death of President Lansana Conte, a senior official said on Tuesday.
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