Thursday, April 23, 2015

Guinea: Opposition calls for protests over elections

Guinea's opposition called for protests across the country against a disputed election timetable Thursday after days of violent clashes in the capital, even as the president ruled out any review.

Violence between supporters of the opposition Union of Republican Forces (UFR) and police during unauthorised protests in Conakry have left several dead in the last two weeks, but supporters are undeterred and seeking to consolidate their regional backing.

Conakry governor Soriba Sorel Camara made a statement on public radio ahead of fresh protests planned for midday (1200 GMT), criticising sections of the opposition for having "chosen the street" to make their case.

He accused activists of "acts of rare barbarity" including "stoning public and private vehicles, seriously wounding public order officials" and urged the public to go about their normal business.

Guinean President Alpha Conde said on Wednesday the country's constitution ruled out the kind of changes to the election timetable sought by opposition supporters.

"The Guinean constitution requires that presidential elections take place on a precise date," Conde told reporters after a meeting with French President Francois Hollande in Paris.

"We will do everything possible to maintain order in the republic."

Guinea's opposition boycotted parliament in March in protest over the timetable for the presidential ballot, accusing Conde of using the Ebola epidemic as an excuse to postpone voting.

The opposition had called for the local elections -- originally planned for the beginning of 2014 -- to be held before the October presidential vote but they are not due to take place until March 2016.

- 'Outstretched hand' -

Opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo's supporters claim the timetable was pushed through without consultation and gives the ruling party an unfair advantage.

After protests in Conakry on Monday Diallo, who lost to Conde in the second round of a 2010 election, called on his supporters to take to the streets once again on Thursday, but this time all across Guinea.

Diallo said the motivation behind the president's refusal to budge on the timetable was fear of defeat if the local vote was brought forward.

"It is not as easy to commit fraud in local elections as it is in national ones -- he would not be able to justify hijacking the vote," the opposition leader told AFP.

Conde's Rally of the Guinean People party "couldn't justify victory in a presidential election" if it suffered heavy losses in a local vote, Diallo added.

Justice Minister Cheick Sako, who is charged with negotiating with the opposition, played down his leader's comments and urged the opposition not to refuse the "outstretched hand" of the government.

The last election in Guinea -- September 2013's parliamentary vote -- was delayed by almost three years, stoking deadly ethnic tensions that have dogged the nation's politics since independence.

Conde came to power in 2010, becoming the former French colony's first democratically elected leader.

One of the poorest countries in the region despite vast potential for mineral exploitation, Guinea was run by a succession of autocratic rulers after gaining independence from France in 1958.

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