Page last updated at 02:43 GMT, Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Guinea's hardline president dies

Lansana Conte in 1984
Conte seized power in 1984 and won three controversial elections

The President of Guinea, Lansana Conte, has died, aged 74.

He had ruled the West African country with an iron fist since 1984, when he took power after a bloodless coup, only the country's second president.

The precise circumstances of his death are not yet known, but he had been suffering from diabetes. He was also a chain smoker.

National Assembly Speaker Aboubacar Sompare announced the death in a late-night statement on state television.

"I have the heavy and difficult task of informing you, with great sadness, of the death of General Lansana Conte, President of the Republic of Guinea, head of state, on Monday 22 December at 1847 after a long illness in Conakry," Mr Sompare said.

The president "hid his physical suffering in order to give happiness to Guinea," he went on.

Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare and chief of staff of the armed forces General Diarra Camara confirmed the news.

As speaker, Mr Sompare will now take over as president for 60 days during which time a presidential election should be held.

Three times elected

President Conte came to power in 1984 at the head of a military coup to fill the power vacuum that had been left by the sudden death of his predecessor, Sekou Toure, who had been president since independence from France in 1958.

He oversaw a return to civilian rule and was elected three times.

He followed a political path familiar to some of the old school of African leaders, says BBC World Affairs correspondent Mark Doyle, when he dabbled with democracy but then appeared to change his mind.

He let some political parties operate but intimidated or jailed other opposition leaders.

During his time in power Lansana Conte held his country together despite the maelstrom of wars in neighbouring states including Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast.

But Guinea, a country of eight million people that is rich in minerals and blessed with fertile soil, never really reached its economic potential.

And repression under President Conte meant that Guinea could not join the new generation of African states which could boast political pluralism, our correspondent notes.

Correspondents say there is no obvious successor to him as president.

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Timeline: Guinea
23 Dec 08 |  Country profiles
Country profile: Guinea
23 Dec 08 |  Country profiles

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