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Guinea death toll rises day after shooting of protesters

Coup leader says he can’t control troops

As hospitals were flooded yesterday, human rights groups said that 157 people had been killed and more than 1,200 wounded when soldiers opened fire Monday in Conakry, Guinea. As hospitals were flooded yesterday, human rights groups said that 157 people had been killed and more than 1,200 wounded when soldiers opened fire Monday in Conakry, Guinea. (Reuters)
By Alhassan Sillah
Associated Press / September 30, 2009

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CONAKRY, Guinea - Soldiers reeking of alcohol fired into the air yesterday, terrorizing residents a day after troops killed 157 people at a pro-democracy rally, and shattered hopes that this West African country was shedding the yoke of dictatorship.

Hospitals were flooded with patients yesterday and the death toll rose through the day after presidential guard troops opened fire on 50,000 people at the main football stadium. Some of those at the rally, upset that a military officer who seized power in a December coup might run for president in January elections, had chanted “We want true democracy.’’

Then Captain Moussa “Dadis’’ Camara’s presidential guard opened fire with live ammunition, scattering panicked demonstrators who left scores of dead behind. Opposition politician Mutarr Diallo said he witnessed soldiers raping women with rifle butts. Camara, who was not present at the stadium, said the violence was beyond his control.

“Those people who committed those atrocities were uncontrollable elements in the military,’’ he told Radio France International on Monday night. “Even I, as head of state in this very tense situation, cannot claim to be able to control those elements in the military.’’

Human rights groups demanded that those responsible be made accountable.

“Guinea’s leaders should order an immediate end to attacks on demonstrators and bring to justice those responsible for the bloodshed,’’ said Corinne Dufka of Human Rights Watch.

Dr. Chierno Maadjou with the Guinean Organization for Defense of Human Rights said 157 people were killed and more than 1,200 wounded.

Guinea’s mineral-rich soil had been plundered by two consecutive dictatorships before Camara seized control of the country a day after President Lansana Conte, who had ruled for nearly a quarter-century, died on Dec. 22. Camara initially was embraced by Guineans, thousands of whom lined the streets to applaud him as he rode through the capital on the back of a flatbed military truck.

But since then, tensions have risen amid rumors that Camara may run in presidential elections scheduled for Jan. 31. He initially indicated that he would not run but said recently he has the right to do so if he chooses.

Demonstrations against Camara have grown in recent weeks, but the reaction by security forces had been comparatively moderate. Late last month, police fired tear gas to break up a demonstration in the capital, and last Thursday tens of thousands of residents in a town north of Conakry took to the streets with no serious incidents.

On the deserted streets of this seaside capital yesterday, mechanic Mohammed Bangoura discussed politics with friends outside his derelict workshop and said Camara has now completely lost the people’s support .

“Dadis Camara’s political career, if he had any ambition, is gone,’’ Bangoura said. “The killing of all these innocent protesters can only mean doom for his political ambition.’’

The African Union, the European Union, and the government of neighboring Senegal denounced Monday’s bloodshed. The AU already had suspended Guinea’s membership after Camara seized power. France’s foreign minister said his country is suspending military cooperation with its former colony.

Witnesses told New York-based Human Rights Watch that security forces stripped female protesters and raped them in the streets. The rights group, citing witness reports, said soldiers also stabbed protesters with knives and bayonets.

Hardly anyone had heard of Camara, an army captain in his 40s, until his men broke down the glass doors of the state TV station on Dec. 23. He announced that the constitution had been dissolved and that the country was under the rule of a military junta. Many began to question his tactics when he authorized raids on the homes of well-known members of the dead president’s inner circle. Camara claimed the raids were intended to recoup money and property stolen from the state, but many complained of heavy-handed tactics.

Since winning independence half a century ago from France, Guinea has been pillaged by its ruling elite. Its 10 million people are among the world’s poorest, even though its soil has diamonds, gold, iron, and half the world’s reserves of the raw material used to make aluminum.