Page last updated at 11:10 GMT, Tuesday, 13 October 2009 12:10 UK

Guinea and China 'agree big deal'

A technician at a Guinea bauxite factory, file mage
Guinea says the deal will help the nation's poorest people

Guinea's military rulers have agreed a huge mining and oil deal with China, officials have told the BBC, amid continuing criticism of the junta.

Mines minister Mahmoud Thiam said a Chinese firm would invest more than $7bn (£4.5bn) in infrastructure.

In return, the company would be a "strategic partner" in all mining projects in the mineral-rich nation.

Guineans are currently on strike to remember dozens of protesters killed by soldiers during a rally two weeks ago.

Chinese shopkeeper in Libreville, file image
China is Africa's second-biggest trading partner, behind US
Between 2002 and 2003 two-way trade doubles to $18.5bn
By 2008 trade tops $100bn - China exports $51bn, imports $56bn
Almost all imports come from oil-rich nations: Angola, Equatorial Guinea, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, and Sudan
Sources: China Daily, Reuters, Council on Foreign Relations

The shootings were widely condemned by international leaders and opposition groups within Guinea.

Agricultural Minister Abdourahmane Sano resigned on Monday, saying he could no longer show solidarity with the government.

And the president of West Africa's economic bloc, Ecowas, warned that the country was in danger of slipping into another dictatorship.

There are widespread calls for junta leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara to step down.

After last December's coup he promised to lead a transitional government and hand power back to civilians after an election scheduled for January 2010.

But there has been growing anger at reports that he intends to stand for president.

'Placing foundations'

China has been praised recently by think-tanks and African leaders for choosing to invest in infrastructure and business in Africa, rather than doling out aid money.

Captain Moussa Dadis Camara
Seized power in December 2008 as a little-known army captain
Promised democracy, but now shows signs of holding on to power
Increasingly erratic behaviour and public humiliation of officials

But analysts say the timing of the Guinea deal is likely to stir controversy, as the legitimacy of Guinea's government is under question.

Mr Thiam dismissed those concerns, saying the government is trying only to help the people.

"We are all in a transition, putting down foundations. We hope that the government that follows us will follow suit," he told the BBC's Network Africa programme.

He did not name the firm involved, but said it was the same firm that has invested billions in Angola - the Hong Kong registered China International Fund.

He said the firm would help build ports, railway lines, power plants, low-cost housing and even a new administrative centre in the capital, Conakry.

He said a national mining firm would be set up, with the Chinese company becoming "strategic partners".

"All the government's stakes in various mining projects will be put in that mining company. Future mining permits or concessions that the government decided to develop on its own will be put in that company," he said.

There has been no word from the Chinese side.

Guinea is thought to have the world's largest reserves of the aluminium ore, bauxite.

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