Friday, December 26, 2008

Guinean State Funeral for Lansana Conte; Coup Leaders Consolidate Power in the West African State

Friday, December 26, 2008
23:03 Mecca time, 20:03 GMT

Guinea bids farewell to late leader

Army officers paid their last respects to Conte at the Palais du Peuple in Conakry on Friday

Guinea has paid its final respects to Lansana Conte amid a vigorous attempt by the military junta that seized control in the wake of the president's death to gain international legitimacy.

Supporters and even critics of Conte, who also took power in a coup and ruled for 24 years, were among tens of thousands taking part in funeral ceremonies in Conakry, the capital.

Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, the junta head and self-styled president, could not be seen at the ceremonies.

But the second-in-command, General Mamadou Ba Toto Camara, paid homage to Conte, whose rule was marked by corruption, rigged elections and political repression.

"We will accompany him to his last resting place and we pray God to give us the courage to continue his work of tolerance and peace for the welfare of Guinea," Toto Camara said at a national stadium packed beyond its 20,000 capacity.

Youssouf Bah, a journalist in Conakry, told Al Jazeera: "Some people are saying that the regime of Lansana Conte is not over. Because the military junta is a group of Lansana Conte."

Coffin on display

Conte's coffin, draped with Guinea's red-yellow-and green flag and escorted by presidential guards, was driven around the stadium as the crowd stood and applauded.

The body was to be taken later to a mosque and then to the village of Lansanaya, around 120km northwest of Conakry, for burial.

Earlier, the coffin was displayed at a ceremony held in the parliament building.

Among the mourners were the presidents of Guinea's neighbours, Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast and Joao Bernardo Vieira of Guinea-Bissau.

The heads of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, Jean Ping and Mohammed Ibn Chambas, were also present along with civil and military officials, and Conte's wives and children.

Despite frequently denouncing Conte for "pillaging" the country, trade union leaders were among those paying respect with messages of condolence to his family.

Charm offensive

Beset by calls from abroad to return the country to civilian rule and stage elections, Moussa Dadis Camara has invited foreign envoys to meet him "to reassure the international community".

He won the allegiance on Thursday of the former prime minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare, who addressed him as "Mr President" and told Camara that he and his ministers were ready to serve the junta.

Camara, who has already appointed a military-dominated governing council in place of the civilian government, assured Souare of his safety and told him that military rule was only temporary.

The junta, in a statement read on national radio, said it would first hold an "informational meeting" at 1000 GMT on Saturday with "representatives of civil society, political parties, religious faiths and unions".

A second meeting would take place at noon (1200 GMT) for representatives of the UN, the European Union and African Union and the Group of Eight leading industralised countries.

The coup has attracted widespread international criticism, particularly of Camara's decision to rule out elections for at least two years.

In a new statement on Friday, former colonial power France urged Guinea to organise free elections within six months "so that the people of Guinea can freely express its will".

Source: Al Jazeera and agencies

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