By Todd Pitman
Friday, January 26, 2007
CONAKRY, Guinea, Jan. 25 -- Battles between security forces and protesters in Guinea earlier this week left at least 59 people dead, almost double the toll previously reported, the Health Ministry said Thursday.
Forty-four people were killed Monday during violence in Conakry, the capital, said Sidiki Diakite, a senior Health Ministry official helping oversee the count. Fifteen others were slain the same day elsewhere in the West African country, he said.
The demonstrations turned deadly when security forces opened fire on rock-hurling protesters, who want President Lansana Conté to give up power to a transitional government.
Health Ministry figures showed 233 people wounded, most by gunshots.
The casualties were not identified, but the vast majority are believed to have been civilians protesting or caught in the crossfire. No deaths among security forces have been reported.
The protests were the culmination of a general strike that began Jan. 10 and presented the gravest threat yet to the rule of Conté, who seized power in a 1984 coup. The strike has paralyzed the country, closing the port, emptying streets and shuttering most private businesses.
Tensions eased considerably Wednesday after an announcement that Conté had agreed to name a prime minister, a move his critics hope will be a step toward his relinquishing some power.
On Thursday, a commission including government officials, union leaders and representatives of civil groups met to discuss the powers of the prospective prime minister. The panel is supposed to present its proposal to Conté soon.
The true death toll from the violence might never be known. Residents said some bodies were not taken to hospitals but were swiftly buried by family members. Muslim custom in Guinea requires that the dead be buried within 24 hours.
Many residents have accused the government of corruption and misrule, which they blame for leaving much of the country without adequate water, electricity or jobs.
Many also worry that Conté's resignation or death could create a power vacuum, plunging the impoverished country of 10 million into civil war. Conté is in his 70s and reportedly suffering from a heart condition.
He has frequently traveled to Switzerland for medical treatment.