CONAKRY, December 23 – Guinea’s President Lansana Conte, who ruled the West African nation with an iron fist for 24 years, has died aged 74, National Assembly Speaker Aboubacar Sompare told state television early Tuesday.,
In power since 1984, the ailing Conte, who relied on the army to put down growing discontent, was a chain smoker who suffered from chronic diabetes and was at one time diagnosed with leukaemia.
"We regret to announce to the people of Guinea the death of General Lansana Conte, after a long illness, at 6:45 pm," Sompare said.
Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare and armed forces chief of staff General Diarra Camara then confirmed the news on television.
Sompare officially asked the president of the Supreme Court to declare the presidency vacant and to apply the constitution.
If the Supreme Court rules that there is a vacancy in the top job, the speaker of the assembly takes over temporarily and has to organize a presidential election within 60 days.
Lansana Conte, a career soldier, came to power through a coup d’etat on April 3, 1984, one week after the death of Guinea’s first president, Ahmed Sekou Toure.
Top officials of the regime met overnight in the capital Conakry to discuss a successor to Conte, a source close to the presidential palace said.
Among the officials meeting in emergency session at the People’s Palace, seat of the national assembly, were Prime Minister Souare, Sompare, the president of the Supreme Court and military leaders.
"All the members of the government were asked to go to the People’s Palace," a minister told AFP.
Last week government spokesman Tibou Kamara had scolded "bearers of false reports" speculating about the president’s state of health.
Conte, who told AFP last year "I am the boss, others are my subordinates," has undergone frequent hospital treatments abroad.