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Coup leaders tighten grip on Guinea

CONAKRY, December 25 – A military junta tightened its grip on Guinea Thursday after a junior army officer declared himself the new president and ordered members of the government to give themselves up within 24 hours.

Captain Moussa Dadis Camara had paraded through with hundreds of soldiers on Wednesday before announcing that he was in charge following the death of long-time dictator Lansana Conte.

A crowd of thousands of coup supporters thronged the streets on Conakry, surrounding the presidential palace and the government ministries, before dispersing peacefully.

Conte had ruled with an iron fist since 1984 and within hours of his passing late Monday, a group of soldiers took control of the airwaves and claimed to have seized power in the impoverished but mineral-rich West African state.

"I am convinced, reassured that I am the president of the republic, the head of the National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD)," Camara said at his first press conference late Wednesday.

Later, in a statement read on radio and state television the CNDD junta said: "All army officers and all the former members of the government are asked to go to camp Alpha Yaya Diallo in the next 24 hours."

When the ultimatum had passed for all to go to the main military base near the international airport, "a sweep of the entire national territory will be organised," the new military leadership warned.

The clampdown came amid growing international condemnation of the coup with the African Union warning of "stern measures" if the military ignored calls to allow a democratic transition of power.

The United States threatened to suspend its aid, some 15 million dollars (10.6 million euros) this year, if coup leaders did not take steps to return civilian rule.

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"One of the things we want to see immediately is a restoration of a civilian democratic rule," said State Department spokesman Robert Wood.

Camara plans to lead a 32-member interim administration, made up of 26 military officers and six civilians, and has ruled out any new elections until December 2010.

The junta has delayed the imposing of a curfew until Friday "to allow Christians to celebrate a peaceful Christmas holiday," according to a statement read on national radio.

Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare has so far maintained his government is still in charge and the UN’s special envoy to West Africa said Wednesday it was too early to gauge who was in control of the country.

"No camp has so far been able to ascertain its position," Said Djinnit told an emergency meeting of the African Union’s Peace and Security Council in the Ethiopian capital.

"On the one hand, you’ve got a group of 32 people who want power and pretend the situation is under their control. On the other hand, the government and the army chief staff are still there and claim they are in power."

Leader since 1984 when he ousted Guinea’s first president Ahmed Sekou Toure, Conte was a chain smoker who suffered from chronic diabetes and was at one time diagnosed with leukaemia.

He had relied on the army along with his clan to bolster his authority, but in recent years social tension and criticism of Conte’s regime had become increasingly open.

Conte’s state funeral will be held in his home village on Friday, a family source said.

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Guinea, a small nation of about 10 million people, is the world’s leading exporter of bauxite, an ore from which aluminium is produced.


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