Guinea was in turmoil yesterday as the government tried to see down a coup attempt by mutinous soldiers who tried to step into the vacuum after the death of veteran ruler Lansana Conte.
The West African nation, the world’s largest producer of aluminium ore, was left in disarray on Tuesday after the death of the iron-fisted Conte, a reclusive chain-smoking career soldier who ruled the impoverished country for 24 years.
The African Union’s Peace and Security Council began a closed-door meeting yesterday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on the unrest in Guinea, which threatens to bring fresh turmoil to restive west Africa.
The members of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council observed a minute’s silence before the closed door discussions.
Troops in the west African country launched a putsch on Tuesday, just hours after Conte’s death, and announced the formation of a ruling council.
“The institutions of the republic have shown themselves to be incapable of resolving the crises which have been confronting the country,” Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, spokesman for the coup, announced on state radio and television.
The “national council for democracy and development” comprises 26 military officers and six civilians, Camara said.
The military component included a general and nine officers with the rank of colonel or lieutenant-colonel.
Guinea’s army chief, General Diarra Camara, appealed to his “dear comrades in arms” for calm and to prepare to give Conte a dignified funeral.
Camara, who had appeared on television overnight with the prime minister and parliamentary speaker announcing Conte’s death, said: “I’m not stopping anyone from having ambitions, but my wish is that we wait at least until after the funeral.”
Government loyalists in the military said the plotters had been split over their choice of leader.
A majority chose Lieutenant-Colonel Sekouba Konate, commander of the airborne battalion which is the army’s elite force, despite his not being the top officer taking part in the coup, military sources said.
But Guinean Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare and Parliament Speaker Aboubacar Sompare on Tuesday contested the plotters’ assertion that they were in charge and scrambled to restore order.
Sompare said only a “minority of soldiers and officers” were involved in the coup attempt, adding: “I am sure they will see reason. They have not used force. There has been no threat against anybody.”
The parliament speaker, who under the Constitution should replace Conte, urged Guinean soldiers to oppose the coup.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and other world leaders swiftly condemned the attempted coup and called for a democratic transfer of power.
“At this time of transition in Guinea, the secretary-general stresses the need for a peaceful and democratic transfer of power, in accordance with the Constitution,” a UN spokeswoman said.
Similar appeals came from the US, France -— Guinea’s former colonial power — and African Union head Jean Ping.