, CONAKRY, Oct 1 – Guinea’s military ruler asked for a UN-backed probe after junta forces massacred more than 150 people and called for the setting up of an interim government until elections due in January.
Bowing to mounting global condemnation of the worst carnage in the west African country in 25 years and the European Union threatening sanctions, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara made peace overtures late Wednesday.
Camara called for a "wise African president to mediate in Guinea," "the setting up of a UN-backed international probe," and the creation of a "national unity government comprising all political parties" until elections next year.
The UN Security Council accused Guinean troops of "blatant violations of human rights, including rapes in public streets in broad daylight" and strongly condemned the massacre, which it said had claimed more than 150 lives. Related article: UN rights chief urges probe
Idrissa Cherif, a special adviser to Camara, put the toll at 57, adding: "four were killed by bullets and 53 died in a stampede."
A European diplomat meanwhile said the EU was studying sanctions against members of the military junta responsible for the massacre. Reax: France
The EU is then expected to decide by late next week what measures to take, such as freezing the assets of certain people, the diplomat said.
Rights activists accused Camara of trying to crush opposition to the junta, which seized power in a bloodless coup in December after the death of long-serving dictator Lansana Conte.
"There’s a desire to silence all contestations and arrest all those whom they believe to be leaders of the demonstration," said Mamadi Kaba, the president of the Guinean branch of the African Encounter for the Defence of Human Rights (RADDHO).
The junta leader, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, "knows that the population won’t cave in, people intend to continue to demonstrate. But he wants the Independence Day celebrations on October 2 to go well," Kaba said.
Camara said late Thursday he was caught between a rock and hard place.
"I have been taken hostage by the army. They say, if you quit, we will seize power," he said.
"If the political leaders so wish, I will leave power today but they will not be able to govern even for two days," he told AFP and Radio France Internationale in an interview.
"If I quit today, Guinea will know no peace."
At least 157 people were killed by security forces and more than 1,250 were injured during the repression of a peaceful demonstration in a Conakry stadium, according to the Guinean Organisation for the Defence of Human Rights.
The protestors wanted to show their opposition to any bid by Camara to stand in the election the junta plans to organise next January. The junta leader has thus far hinted that he might be a candidate.
"Any mass gatherings which are of a subversive nature are banned," Camara told television late Tuesday.
He urged Christian and Muslim priests, political and civic leaders and journalists to "abstain from acts that would disrupt public order or shake the foundations of the Guinean nation".
A national day of mourning was also declared by the leader on Wednesday and Thursday.
Although Camara has expressed regret over the bloodbath, he has also blamed opposition leaders for fomenting unrest, saying they were paying youth to demonstrate and inciting violence.
Press rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) meanwhile expressed "extreme concern" for two journalists on Wednesday who the group said were being hunted for their coverage of the stadium massacre.
Mouctar Bah, Agence France-Presse and Radio France Internationale correspondent, and Amadou Diallo, from the BBC, were being sought by the military who accused them of "selling them out to the international community", RSF said in a statement.
Former prime minister and opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo, who was beaten up by security forces during the bloody crackdown, was on Wednesday prevented from leaving for France, his wife Halimatou Diallo told AFP, adding that their passports had been seized at the airport.