Page last updated at 13:37 GMT, Tuesday, 13 February 2007

Q&A: Guinea emergency

Guinea's President Lansana Conte has imposed a curfew across the country and ordered the army to do whatever it takes to restore order after days of violent protests.

What are the protests about?

Guinea's trade unions have called a general strike to protest at falling living standards, which they blame on President Conte.

Protesters in Guinea (file photo)
Many Guineans are angry about the high cost of living

The cost of basic goods such as rice and petrol has shot up, while the president, in his 70s, is sick and rarely seen in public.

He further outraged his critics by allegedly going in person to a prison to secure the release of two prominent figures accused of corruption.

They say this showed that he was not at all concerned about the plight of ordinary people - just himself and his cronies.

The union leaders say that Guinea's economy will only improve if there is a change of leader and say Mr Conte must step down.

Guinea is rich in minerals but most people live in poverty, while the country is seen as among the most corrupt in the world.

Why was the emergency declared?

An 18-day strike was called off last month, when Mr Conte promised to hand over powers to a new prime minister.

But he named one of his closest allies to that post, sparking renewed outrage, protests and strikes.

Guinea's President Lansana Conte
The unions say President Conte is too sick to run the country

Almost 100 people have been killed since the strikes first began.

Most of the deaths have come when the security forces opened fire of crowds of protesters, trying to reach central Conakry, where the government is based.

But some of the protests, which have taken place in towns around the country, have turned violent.

Mobs have ransacked police stations and government offices.

Gangs of looters have also taken advantage of the breakdown in law and order to rob shops and passers-by.

The army has been given wide powers to prevent a civil war and people can only leave their homes from 1600 to 2000 each day.

So what happens next?

The army holds the key.

President Conte is an army man and first came to power in a 1984 coup.

If the army continues to obey his orders and forcibly control protesters, Mr Conte may be able to hold on.

But if a large number of soldiers refuse to fire on civilians, he will have little choice but to step down.

Gunfire has already been heard inside one of Conakry's main barracks.

This could be the start of open divisions in the army but it is not yet clear.

Guinea is deeply divided along ethnic lines, with three main groups - the Mandinka, the Peul and the Sousou, like Mr Conte.

Some fear a civil war breaking out along ethnic lines, which could drag in Guinea's neighbours Liberia and Sierra Leone, which are just emerging from their own conflicts.

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The threat of civil war in Guinea


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