Wed, Sep 30, 2009 - Page 1 News List

Protest in Guinean capital ends in bloodbath

REUTERS , CONAKRY

The death toll from a crackdown by Guinean security forces on opponents of the military junta has risen to 157, a local rights group said yesterday, quoting hospital sources in the capital.

Security forces on Monday opened fire on tens of thousands of protesters urging military ruler Captain Moussa Dadis Camara to step down, bringing broad international condemnation and the threat of sanctions from the African Union (AU).

“According to hospital sources that we have spoken to, 157 dead and 1,253 injured have been registered,” said Thierno Maadjou Sow, president of the Guinean Human Rights Organization.

Sow said the figure did not include the bodies of those demonstrators killed at the September 28 stadium but that had not been delivered to hospitals.

The clashes were the worst since Camara seized power in a coup last year and followed months of wrangling between Camara and opponents who insist he should not stand in a January presidential poll.

Earlier the AU called on Camara to confirm he would honor his pledge not to stand in the election and so allow transition to civilian rule.

“In this respect the [AU] Commission is preparing a report on the developments in Guinea and possible measures to be taken, including sanctions,” it said in a statement that did not elaborate what steps were envisaged.

International criticism of the violence was immediate.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and former colonial power France condemned the killings, which eyewitnesses said were unprovoked and indiscriminate.

“Soldiers were firing at people and those who tried to get out [of the stadium] were caught and finished off with bayonets,” Guinean human rights activist Souleymane Bah said of the clashes.

Bah said he had seen dozens of lifeless bodies in the stadium after soldiers dispersed the crowd, and confirmed widespread reports of abuses by soldiers.

“I saw soldiers strip women naked, spread their legs and stamp on their privates with their boots,” he said.

Camara has yet to make a formal announcement on whether he will stand for the election, but diplomats have said he has spoken in private of his plans to be candidate.

Camara seized power after former president Lansana Conte died last December. He enjoyed initial support but his increasingly erratic behavior, including crackdowns on former backers in the military, attacks on mining companies and the likelihood he will stand for election, have fueled instability.

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