Guinean government dissolved and borders shut, army colonel says

Alpha Conde

Mutinous soldiers in the West African nation of Guinea detained President Alpha Conde on Sunday after hours of heavy gunfire rang out near the presidential palace in the capital.

They then announced on state television that the government had been dissolved in an apparent coup d’etat.

The country’s borders were closed and its constitution was declared invalid in the announcement read aloud on state television by army colonel Mamadi Doumbouya, who told Guineans: “The duty of a soldier is to save the country.”

Mr Conde’s whereabouts had been unknown for hours after the intense fighting Sunday in central Conakry until a video emerged showing the 83-year-old leader tired and dishevelled in military custody.

It was not known when or where the video was taken, though a soldier’s voice can be heard asking Conde whether the soldiers had harmed him in any way.

Doumbouya, the commander of the army’s special forces unit, later addressed the nation from state television headquarters, draped in a Guinean flag and flanked by about half a dozen other soldiers.

“We will no longer entrust politics to one man, we will entrust it to the people,” Doumbouya said, without mentioning Mr Conde by name or where he was being held.

He later confirmed to France 24 television that Mr Conde was in a “secure spot” and had seen a doctor.

Mr Conde, in power for more than a decade, had seen his popularity plummet since he sought a third term last year, saying that term limits did not apply to him.

Sunday’s dramatic developments underscored how dissent had mounted within the military as well.

In Sunday’s speech, Doumbouya called on other soldiers “to put themselves on the side of the people” and stay in their barracks.

Doumbouya said he was acting in the best interests of the nation, citing a lack of economic progress by leaders since the country gained independence from France in 1958.

“If you see the state of our roads, if you see the state of our hospitals, you realize that after 72 years, it’s time to wake up,” he said. “We have to wake up.”

Observers, though say the tensions between Guinea’s president and the army colonel stemmed from a recent proposal to cut some military salaries.

Heavy gunfire had erupted early Sunday near the presidential palace and went on for hours, sparking fears in a nation that already has seen several coups and presidential assassination attempts.

The defence ministry claimed that the attack had been repelled by security forces, but uncertainty grew when there was no subsequent sign of Mr Conde on state television or radio.

In 2010, Mr Conde had won the country’s first democratic election since independence from France. Many saw his presidency as a fresh start for the country, which has been mired in decades of corrupt, authoritarian rule.

Opponents, though, say he has failed to improve the lives of Guineans, most of whom live in poverty despite the country’s vast mineral riches, which include bauxite and gold.

The following year he narrowly survived an assassination attempt after gunmen surrounded his home overnight and pounded his bedroom with rockets.

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