Page last updated at 14:52 GMT, Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Coup leaders warn off mercenaries

Street scene in Conakry, Guinea on 23 December 2008
Analysts had predicted an attempted military coup after Mr Conte's death

Coup leaders in Guinea have warned army generals backing the government not to use mercenaries to oppose the coup.

Junior officers leading the coup effort said intervention by outside forces, who they say are already in Guinea, would lead to consequences.

The country's prime minister insists the government is still in control, but the situation remains unclear.

Observers fear unrest in Guinea could spread in a region enjoying relative stability after years of conflict.

The national assembly head has urged the international community to prevent the coup attempt succeeding.

"The international community must... prevent the military from interrupting the democratic process," Aboubacar Sompare told Reuters news agency.

We have no intention of bringing in mercenaries. In fact, we haven't even asked our own armed forces to intervene
Ahmed Tidiane Souare
Guinea's prime minister

African Union leaders are holding emergency talks on the crisis.

According to Guinea's constitution, Mr Sompare should be in charge of the government until elections are held in 60 days.

In a telephone interview with Reuters, Mr Sompare said the army was split between loyalists and coup-plotters.

"The situation hasn't been resolved yet. Loyalists and coup-mongers have met... but they haven't been able to reach an agreement," Mr Sompare said.


Meanwhile, Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare has said the government, protected by loyal troops, was still the legitimate authority.

Lansana Conte seized power in 1984 and won three controversial elections

And he rejected the coup leaders' claims that mercenaries could be used.

"It's idiotic - no, it's not true at all," Mr Souare told the Associated Press news agency.

"We are still in control and we are trying to normalise the situation. We have no intention of bringing in mercenaries. In fact, we haven't even asked our own armed forces to intervene."

Mr Souare has been unable to communicate directly with the population since the dissident troops seized the state's TV and radio stations, AP said.

There are tanks on the streets of the capital, Conakry, but for the moment the city is calm.

Elections pledge

The crisis began hours after the death of President Lansana Conte, when coup spokesman Capt Camara went on state radio to say that the government and other institutions had been dissolved in favour of a National Council for Democracy.

He said he would head a 32-member national council that would run the country.

Coup leader Capt Camara makes a television address

Later, he said the council would hold "free, credible and transparent elections" in December 2010, when President Conte's term would have ended.

"The council has no ambitions to hold on to power. The only reason is the need to safeguard territorial integrity. That is the only reason. There is no ulterior motive," he said.

However, there also appears to be disagreement among the plotters as to whether Capt Camara should head the new national council.

Many analysts had predicted the army would try to take over following President Conte's death because he had been increasingly relying on it to shore up his oppressive rule, our correspondent says.

In recent years he was in such poor health it was often difficult to know who was in charge.

President Conte died on Monday night after a "long illness".

The cause of his death is unknown, but Mr Conte, 74, was a chain-smoker and diabetic who is also believed to have suffered from leukaemia.

We need a change, change that will benefit all Guineans. We pray for a good leader
Amara, Nzerekore

The African Union, European Union and United States led condemnation of the coup.

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

He eventually oversaw a return to civilian rule and was elected three times, although critics said the votes were never free or fair.

A power struggle in the army could be extremely dangerous given the country's ethnic divisions, says the BBC's West Africa correspondent Will Ross.

Guinea's neighbours - Liberia, Sierra Leone and Ivory Coast - are enjoying relative stability after years of conflict, and there are fears any unrest in Guinea could spread.

Although Guinea's mineral wealth makes it potentially one of Africa's richest countries, its population of about 10 million is among the poorest in the region.

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