Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Guinea President Alpha Conde Survives Rocket Attack

Guinea president survives rocket attack

He survived the assassination attempt of a group of rogue soldiers opening fire on his residence overnight

Wed, Jul 20, 2011

CONAKRY - Guinea's newly installed president survived a rocket attack on his residence that left a guard dead Tuesday and led to the arrest of the coup-prone country's former army chief.

Alpha Conde appealed for calm after a group of rogue soldiers opened fire on his residence overnight, sparking a two-hour gun battle that rattled the first democratically elected Guinean president after seven months in power.

He moved quickly to give assurances that the attack, "strongly" condemned by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, was not a coup d'etat.

"This was an assassination attempt," but "not a coup d'etat," Conde told Radio France Internationale and announced that the two main actors, "deviant military chiefs", had been arrested.

He did not name them, but former army chief Nouhou Thiam - fired by the president shortly after he took office - was arrested in the wake of the attack, his wife told AFP.

Conde told state television that members of his presidential guard, one of whom died in the shootout while two were hurt, fought "heroically" in the two-hour battle until backup arrived around 5:00 am (local and GMT).

He said he escaped injury because he was not sleeping in his bedroom when it was blasted with bazookas and rocket-propelled grenades.

"I urge you to calm, but (also) to vigilance and national unity," Conde told Guineans. "I do not want any popular reaction, no reaction against anybody; leave the army and the security forces to do their work."

The tension comes seven months after Conde took office following his victory over rival Cellou Dalein Diallo in the country's first democratic election since independence from France in 1958.

Diallo, who is in Dakar, called for an investigation and told AFP the attack was "regrettable".

"I hope it doesn't affect the nation's unity, democratic process and already fragile social fabric," said the now opposition leader who has recently denounced the new government's "autocratic tendencies".

The November election of Guinea's perennial political opponent won international praise as a transparent poll despite an ensuing police crackdown on protests that left seven dead and hundreds wounded.

The UN's Ban called Tuesday "on all Guineans to refrain from all acts likely to undermine the ongoing peaceful and democratic process in the country," said his spokesman Martin Nesirky.

Former colonial ruler France also condemned the attack and urged the military to commit to democracy while stressing that parliamentary polls need to be held soon.

The US State Department lamented what it called an "apparent attempted assassination".

"Overthrowing a democratic government through force and violence is unacceptable," spokeswoman Heide Bronke Fulton said.

European Union foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton "firmly condemned" the attack and called on everyone in the country, especially the army, to "work for the stability of Guinea."

Prime Minister Mohamed Said Fofana convened an emergency meeting of the country's security chiefs in the aftermath of the attack, stressing that they must act "to prevent things going uncontrollably downhill".

The 73-year-old Conde faces the huge task of turning around a nation plagued by decades of deadly political violence and ethnic gamesmanship.

Parliamentary elections were due to be held six months after his inauguration, but Conde's insistence that a new census should come first has drawn criticism from his opponents.

Guinea has a long history of coups and attempted coups, the last coming in December 2008 when a young army officer, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, seized power following the death of Lansana Conte, who had been in power 24 years.

In September the following year, security forces massacred over 150 people at a protest against the junta.

A few months later Camara was shot and wounded by a close aide, and a transition government led by General Sekouba Konate then steered the country to its first democratic vote in November last year.

Conde suggested the attack may have been masterminded by rogue army officers displeased at recent measures he took to tackle corruption.

"Clearly some people are not happy" about the reforms, he told RFI.

The country remains poor despite its mineral wealth as the world's leading exporter of bauxite, the ore that is the main provider of aluminium.

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