, CONAKRY, Apr 14 – One protester was killed and several others shot and wounded Monday as Guinean police battled to control violent demonstrations in the capital Conakry against the regime of President Alpha Conde.
Rioting broke out around 9:30 am (0930 GMT) in several suburbs including Simbaya and Hamdallaye, with protesters throwing stones and setting fire to tyres as the police responded with tear gas.
At least seven youths were treated for gunshot wounds, according to the opposition, which had called for the demonstrations against a lack of stability it blames on Conde’s government.
The director of Conakry’s Mother and Child clinic, Ibrahima Balde, told AFP that one of those injured later died from his wounds.
“A young man by the name of Souleymane Bah, who was shot in the chest, succumbed to his injuries in the early evening,” he told AFP.
Earlier, a hospital doctor speaking on condition of anonymity said the security forces had shot three protesters during clashes in Hamdallaye.
The medic told AFP two of the protesters sustained leg injuries while a third with a serious stomach wound was dragged several metres by police before being abandoned.
“He was quickly rescued by his comrades,” a policeman told AFP.
Four other protesters were wounded in the northeastern suburb of Simbaya, witnesses and a police officer told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The government cited police and hospital sources as saying 10 people had been injured, six by gunfire, and that eight people had been arrested.
The government denied that the police had fired at protesters, while warning that “individuals currently engaged in acts of vandalism may in no circumstances be treated as peaceful activists”.
The statement, from the Department of Security and Civil Protection, added that the head of the army had ordered troops to remain in their barracks.
The gunfire could be heard into the mid-afternoon — albeit with lessening intensity — as youths gathered in the streets, according to an AFP correspondent who witnessed panicked residents trying to get home.
– Deadly ethnic tensions –
Guinea’s opposition boycotted parliament in March in protest over the timetable for a presidential election, accusing Conde of using the Ebola epidemic as an excuse to postpone voting.
Former prime ministers Cellou Dalein Diallo, Sidya Toure and Lansana Kouyate accused Conde of repeated rights violations and said he had “lost all legitimacy”.
They called on supporters to back several demands, including a call to bring forward local elections due in March next year.
“We will continue our rallies tomorrow until we are heard by those in power,” Diallo told AFP on Monday.
Guinea, one of the poorest countries in west Africa despite vast potential for mineral exploitation, was run by a succession of autocratic rulers for decades after gaining independence from France in 1958.
A military junta took control in 2008 after the death of president Lansana Conte, who seized power in a coup 24 years earlier.
A caretaker regime oversaw the transition to civilian rule in 2010.
The last election — September 2013’s parliamentary vote — was delayed by almost three years, stoking deadly ethnic tensions.
Guinea’s approximately two dozen ethnic groups — the Fulani are the largest at around 40 percent of the population, followed by the Malinke and Soussou — live in harmony, but political campaigns have a way of exposing fault lines.
President Conde, a Malinke, leads the Rally of the Guinean People and claims to espouse socialism while his main rival, Diallo, is a Fulani and heads the centrist liberal Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UDFG).
– ‘Climate of instability’ –
Large numbers of police had deployed Monday to the planned locations of the rallies, which were declared illegal.
The government in a statement accused the “so-called republican opposition” of demonstrating “a real desire to create disorder and violence”.
It accused protesters of erecting barricades, burning tyres, injuring security personnel, throwing stones at vehicles and firing a shotgun at a police station.
The police responded with tear gas, the statement said.
The government said that “for now, the origin of the gunfire has not been determined”.
Amadou Damaro Camara, the chairman of the parliamentary majority group, accused the opposition of trying to create a “climate of instability”.
“That is consistent with their desire to bring chaos to all areas,” he told AFP.
El Hadj Aliou Bah, a UDFG lawmaker for the Ratoma constituency, called on his supporters to confront the security forces, telling demonstrators: “We really do not have to be afraid of the police.”
“Do not provoke anyone. When you are told to stop, stop. But when they attack you, even though you are innocent, you don’t just accept it, that much at least is clear,” he added.