Death Toll From Guinea Violence Up to 59

The Associated Press
Thursday, January 25, 2007; 12:11 PM

CONAKRY, Guinea -- Battles between security forces and protesters in Guinea earlier this week killed at least 59 people, almost double the toll previously reported, the Health Ministry said Thursday.

Forty-four people were killed during Monday's violence in Conakry, the capital, said Dr. Sidiki Diakite, a senior Health Ministry official helping oversee the count. The other 15 were slain the same day elsewhere in the West African nation, he said.

The demonstrations turned deadly when security forces opened fire on rock-hurling protesters, who called on long-ruling President Lansana Conte to give up power to a transitional government.

Health Ministry figures showed 233 other people were wounded, most by gunshots. Those included 173 in Conakry and 50 elsewhere.

The figures did not identify the casualties, but the vast majority are believed to have been civilians either protesting or caught in the crossfire. No deaths among security forces have been reported.

The protests were the culmination of a two-week general strike that began Jan. 10 and presented the gravest threat yet to the rule of Conte, who seized power in a 1984 coup. The strike has paralyzed the nation, closing the port, emptying streets and shuttering most private businesses.

Though the strike is still on, tensions eased considerably Wednesday after an announcement that Conte had agreed to name a prime minister _ in what his critics hope would be a step toward relinquishing some power.

On Thursday, a commission including government officials, union leaders and representatives of civil groups met to work out what powers the new prime minister should have. The commission is supposed present its proposal to Conte soon.

The true death toll from Monday's violence may never be known. Residents said some of those slain were not brought to hospitals, but swiftly buried by their families. Muslim custom in Guinea requires the dead be buried within 24 hours.

Earlier this week, Amnesty International said it had counted more than 30 dead since the strike began.

A senior official of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Conakry had put the nationwide death toll at 35, with 24 dead in Conakry and 11 others killed in the nation's interior. He declined to be named, saying he was not authorized to speak to the press. It was not immediately possible to reconcile the figures with those of the Health Ministry.

A doctor at Donka hospital, where most of the casualties were brought, said 50 fatalities were registered at Donka alone. He declined to be named for reasons of protocol.

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