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Guineans wait with cautious relief for end of strike

Guineans wait with cautious relief for end of strike

Guineans waited with a mixture of caution and relief yesterday for the nomination of a new prime minister, a move they hope will end a general strike which has paralyzed the West African country for two weeks.
Guinean President Lansana Conte agreed in principle late on Wednesday to name a consensus premier, the key demand of unions staging the nationwide stoppage in which more than 40 people have been killed in street protests, mediators said.
"For the majority of Guineans, it is a huge relief. We were on the brink of catastrophe in this country," said Ansoumane Djessira Conde, a resident in the Camayenn suburb which saw some of the most violent clashes.
"Finally the president has understood that he cannot simply act in isolation."
The two-week-old strike has halted shipments of bauxite from the world's top exporter of the ore, and triggered food shortages in the oceanside capital Conakry as markets and banks remain shuttered.
Union leaders welcomed Conte's decision as a positive step, but said they would need to see concrete action before lifting their protest, the third of its kind in a year.
"We have to have guarantees because there is a lack of confidence ... We want a prime minister who can set up a true government of technocrats," said Louis Mbemba Soumah, secretary-general of the SNECG teachers' union.
"We are drawing up a document to define the prime minister's role and we will insist that there is no more interference (from Conte) in government affairs," he said.
Strike leaders called their stoppage after Conte's personal intervention to free from jail two former allies accused of graft and a series of sudden and chaotic cabinet reshuffles.
They say the president, a chain-smoking, reclusive diabetic in his 70s, has become increasingly erratic in his 23-year rule over Guinea, whose nearly 10 million people live in poverty despite the country's mineral riches.
Huge queues formed outside fuel stations as people ventured back on the streets after protests which the security forces quashed by opening fire, killing at least 33 in the capital alone on Monday and filling hospitals with wounded.
Despite the brutal clampdown, some Guineans said the protests and the concessions they had forced from Conte appeared to mark a new departure in a country ranked Africa's most corrupt by watchdog Transparency International.
"The myth of Conte has been broken," said Mohamed Francois Falcone, head of the country's anti-corruption agency. "Public consciousness is coming round to the idea that they can bring about change, that they have the power."
Conte's clan-based rule has been founded on the support of the army since he seized power in the former French colony in a 1984 coup. He has shown little willingness to take a back seat.
There is no obvious favourite to fill the post of consensus prime minister and, diplomats say, any appointee may struggle to end the political crisis as long as Conte's family continues to influence government affairs.
But among a population with little experience of political freedom, Conte's apparent readiness to name a new premier already represents a small victory.
"Elections have always been fixed, there has been no way for the people to express themselves," said Souleymane Diallo, veteran press freedom activist and publication director of the widely-respected satirical newspaper the Lynx.


Updated : 2021-03-06 04:31 GMT+08:00