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Last Updated: Thursday, 10 January 2008, 17:12 GMT
Guinea general strike called off
By Will Ross
BBC West Africa correspondent

Ibrahima Fofana (R), secretary general of the Syndicated Union of Workers of Guinea - photo February 2007
Last year's strike ended when a new PM was announced
After days of negotiations, trade unions in Guinea have called off a nationwide strike planned for Thursday.

There were fears the strike could have led to a renewal of violence which left close to 200 people dead last year.

The unions last week accused Guinean President Lansana Conte of breaking the power-sharing agreement which ended last year's violence.

They have now agreed to work with the government to ensure the deal holds, leading to a sense of relief.

It is a hand-to-mouth existence for many who simply could not have afforded to strike.

"We have decided to suspend the strike, taking into account the situation which currently prevails," union negotiator Boubacar Biro Barry told reporters.

"The government has made a commitment and we have no reason to doubt it, and religious leaders will be in charge of monitoring the implementation of the agreement," he said.

Violent protests

The trade unions said the decision was made in the interests of peace and even mentioned the forthcoming African Cup of Nations football tournament as one of the factors influencing the decision.

Guinea's President Lansana Conte - file photo
President Conte has clung to power despite poor health

In addition to the personal economic impact, the planned strike was also not popular with many Guineans because of the fear of repeat of the chaotic scenes witnessed one year ago.

At the time the government was barely functioning and the trade unions tried to force the ailing Mr Conte from power.

The move was hugely popular, so the unions brought the whole country to a standstill.

But protests soon became violent and when the president turned to the military, close to 200 people were killed.

Despite his poor health, President Conte clung on but agreed to hand over some of his power to a consensus prime minister, Lansana Kouyate.

But in recent months loyalists to Mr Conte, who found themselves sidelined from power and resources, have done their best to derail the peace agreement.

When the president last week sacked Communications Minister Justin Morel Junior, considered by many to be performing well, this prompted the unions to once again raise the red flag.

IMF help

Prior to Mr Kouyate's appointment, to say governance in Guinea was chaotic would be an understatement.

It was not uncommon for a cabinet reshuffle to be announced on state television and then cancelled the following evening.

Guinea was rudderless and corruption grew ever more rampant while the population grew ever more desperate.

What is worrying for Guineans is the return of these signs of trouble at the top.

The country is rich in resources, including bauxite needed to produce aluminium, and institutions like the International Monetary Fund have been trying to help Guinea back on its feet.

However, after years of misrule, that is a huge task.


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