CONAKRY, Dec 26 – The leader of a coup in Guinea tightened his grip on the west African state, winning the allegiance of the toppled government, as the junta sought to reassure the international community amid calls for swift elections.,
After prime minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare and his cabinet turned themselves in Thursday, coup leader Moussa Dadis Camara said they could stay and help him run the country but left them with no illusions about who was now in charge.
"Yesterday, you were in power, today it’s our turn," said the army captain who declared himself head of a ruling junta after the death of veteran strongman President Lansana Conte.
"You can go back to business, let us just avoid armed conflict which would drag our country into fratricidal war."
"We helped you, you must help us," he added in a meeting at a military camp witnessed by journalists.
Souare replied that he and his ministers were ready to serve the junta and made a point of referring to Camara as president.
"We are at your complete disposal," Souare said.
"We thank you once again for your wisdom, Mr President."
The prime minister and his cabinet had turned themselves in after an order to do so from the junta that seized control on Tuesday within hours of veteran strongman Conte’s death at the age of 74.
Camara had warned that if all top military brass and government members did not turn themselves in by the end of Thursday, "a sweep of the entire national territory will be organised."
The junta had earlier said elections would be held in December 2010 and Camara told the premier that military rule would be temporary.
"The army’s assumption of power is transitional, and will result in free and transparent elections, after which we will return to barracks," he said.
But the storm of international criticism triggered by the coup showed no sign of abating.
The office of French President Nicolas Sarkozy said the former colonial power wanted to see "a peaceful, ordered and democratic transition" and the holding of "free and transparent elections which should be organised soon and under international monitoring."
The United States demanded an immediate return to civilian rule in the country of 10 million people, saying the idea of elections not taking place for another two years was unacceptable.
"The United States of America condemns the military coup in Guinea and rejects the communique promising elections in December 2010," said a statement in French released by the embassy in Conakry.
"We demand an immediate return to civilian rule" and elections in May as originally planned before Conte’s death, it said.
Two main Guinean opposition groupings urged the junta to stage a vote in a year’s time.
The Coalition of Forces for Change and the National Alliance for Alternative Democracy acknowledged the coup, but called for "transparent, free and credible elections" to be held "at the latest by the end of 2009."
In a bid "to reassure the international community," the coup leaders late Thursday invited envoys from the Group of Eight, United Nations, European Union and African Union to meet with them this weekend.
The junta, in a statement read on national radio, said it would first hold an "informational meeting" Saturday morning (1000 GMT) with "representatives of civil society, political parties, religious faiths and unions."
A second meeting would take place at noon (1200 GMT) "in order to reassure the international community," said the soldiers. The junta also invited the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to the meeting.
A group of trade unions behind protests in 2006 and 2007 against Conte’s regime congratulated soldiers involved in the coup for their commitment to "the process of change."
The seaside capital Conakry was calm and traffic slowly trickled back on the streets Thursday after filling stations reopened. Soldiers were stationed at key points, including a camp where Conte’s body has been kept.
Camara plans to lead a 32-member interim administration, made up of 26 military officers and six civilians.
In a show of force, he paraded through the capital on Wednesday with hundreds of soldiers before announcing he was the new "president of the republic".
Thousands of coup supporters thronged the streets of Conakry, surrounding the presidential palace and the government ministries, before dispersing peacefully.
Conte’s funeral is to be held Friday in his home village, according to family sources.