Guinea leader dies

Saliou Samb

Saliou Samb

CONAKRY - Guinea announced yesterday the death of its long-serving president, Lansana Conte, and just hours later soldiers made a broadcast on state radio saying the constitution and the government were suspended.

The radio broadcast, which suggested a coup was under way, created confusion after government leaders announced Conte had died following nearly a quarter century of rule over the West African state, the world's leading bauxite exporter.

Journalists at state radio headquarters said a group of soldiers had entered the building and forced staff to broadcast the communique which said the constitution and government institutions were suspended.

The statement read on the air said a ruling council would be installed which would name a president in the coming days. It would also name a new prime minister and a government to fight corruption.

The identity of the soldiers who made the broadcast was not immediately known.

The death of Conte, a diabetic, chain-smoking general, has left a potential power vacuum.

Guinea has experienced anti-government riots and strikes and bloody military mutinies in recent years, aggravated by rising prices of food and fuel.

Most of the population are poor, despite the nation's huge mineral riches.

When government leaders gathered to announce Conte's death on state TV, military commander Diarra Camara ordered troops to protect strategic locations and the borders of the former French colony.

Conte, who died on Monday night, was believed to be 74. Although rumours that he was seriously ill had circulated in the dilapidated seaside capital of Conakry for days, the government chose the early hours, when most people were sleeping, to announce his death. The streets were calm.

Conte had governed since 1984 when he seized power after the country's first president, Sekou Toure, died in a US hospital.

But he never groomed a clear successor. "I arrived as a soldier, and I will finish as a soldier . God gives and takes life, end of story," Conte once said.

Analysts said the way in which the military reacted to the news of his death would be crucial to the country's future stability, where international mining companies have operations. - Reuters