Wed, Feb 14, 2007 - Page 6 News List

Trying to avoid civil war, Guinea enacts martial law

AFP , CONAKRY

Guinea's embattled President Lansana Conte slapped martial law on the west African country on Monday in a bid to end deadly protests against his rule.

Conte, 72, himself a former general who seized power in a coup 23 years ago, ordered the military to act to avoid the country sliding into an all-out "civil war" and imposed a curfew effective 20 hours a day for the next 11 days.

The ailing leader who rarely appears in public, announced in a televised address that the "destruction and loss of human lives" in Guinea over the past month of strikes and demonstrations in which over 100 people have been killed had forced him to impose martial law.

"I am therefore ordering the army chiefs of staff to take all necessary measures to reestablish public order and protect the people of Guinea against the risk of a civil war," he said.

The country of 9.4 million people will be under curfew, prohibiting the "movement of people, vehicles or goods ... across the entire national territory" from 6am to 4pm and 8pm to 6am.

"Processions, marches and demonstrations are prohibited" so are "public or private meetings likely to cause or maintain disorder," said Conte, declaring what he described as a "state of siege" in the country.

Conte gave the army sweeping authority to enforce all the laws including control of the media.

He spoke after a day of deadly unrest during a renewed general strike aiming to force him to step down. The strike had earlier been called off when Conte finally agreed to name a prime minister with increased powers, but his choice of long-time ally Eugene Camara sparked new unrest.

Skirmishes between demonstrators and security forces broke out in several neighborhoods of the capital and in the interior of the country, leaving at least 18 people dead, taking to 104 the total toll since the unrest erupted last month.

Violence spread to a military headquarters on Monday with heavy gunfire reverberating across the Alpha Yaya military camp near Conakry's international airport, apparently in protest at the arrival in the capital of fighters from nearby Liberia and recent promotions of some army officers, military sources said.

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