CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — Opposition supporters attempting to join a march were violently dispersed on Tuesday, and at least four people were killed when paramilitary police seized control of traffic circles and lobbed tear gas at people walking toward the meeting point, an official said.
Opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo, who lost last year's election to President Alpha Conde, told The Associated Press by telephone that one of the four dead bodies was dumped in front of the headquarters of his party, the Union of the Democratic Forces of Guinea. Three others were at the local morgue, he said.
Prime Minister Mohamed Said Fofana addressed the nation on the Tuesday evening state television broadcast and said 23 police officers were hospitalized with injuries after being hit by rocks thrown by protesters.
They were matching to express mounting unease over upcoming parliament elections which Diallo and others say are being rigged. He said just two people had died, but reporters who were present when he visited the local morgue said the premier arrived after one of the three bodies stored there already had been picked up by relatives.
"We deplore these acts, which do nothing to advance our democracy and we regret that blood of another Guinean has once more been spilled," Fofana said.
The opposition had expected to rally supporters from the majority-Peul areas lining the Route du Prince, a major artery that runs across the neighborhoods of Bambeto, Matato, Enco-5 and Cosa — all of which voted in large numbers for Diallo. On Monday, the government announced that the march was authorized to go ahead, a rare gesture in this nation that knew only strongman rule up until last November's election.
That vote was considered the first democratic transfer of power in Guinea's history, but the poll was marred by days of clashes pitting Diallo's Peul supporters with the mostly-Malinke security force backing the successful candidate, Conde, who is himself a Malinke.
Instead on Tuesday, opposition leaders including Diallo were not able to even leave their homes for the first part of the morning after riot police took positions at the main intersections and fired tear gas grenades at anyone attempting to assemble. Pro-opposition youth began hurling rocks, intensifying the standoff and by early afternoon, witnesses said the police began using live rounds in at least one district — Matoto.
Despite that, several residents described the dispersal of the march as less violent than Guinea has been accustomed to in the past. In 2009, the red-beret wearing presidential guard opened fire with machine guns on a pro-democracy demonstration inside the national soccer stadium, killing scores of people. Diallo was among those injured and was evacuated to France for treatment.
"What is remarkable is that the police units are using riot control tools to disperse the protesters — tear gas and night sticks, and not fire arms for the most part," said shopkeeper Souleymane Sow, a Peul who was backing Diallo. "It's my opinion that the repression I'm seeing is not too violent compared to what we are used to."
The march marks the first major demonstration since the historic election 10 months ago which saw the military hand power to civilians for the first time since 1984. Many hope the civilian-led government will put an end to abuses by the army and were reassured Monday when Army Chief of Staff Souleymane Kelefa Diallo ordered soldiers via a broadcast on state television to stay inside their barracks on Tuesday. A soldier that ventured out Tuesday morning was immediately surrounded by police and arrested, according to witnesses.
Mouctar Diallo, a Peul politician who helped organize the Tuesday march said the police have a long way to go in this nascent democracy. He charged that they had deliberately blocked the movement of people in Peul neighborhoods.
"Yesterday the government promised to ensure the security of our peaceful march, but in fact what we are now witnessing is an assault by the gendarmerie exclusively on neighborhoods that are favorable to the opposition," said Diallo.
Associated Press Writer Rukmini Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.
- Cellou Dalein Diallo