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Guinea's erratic military ruler

29 September 09 13:43 GMT

Moussa Dadis Camara, Guinea's somewhat eccentric military leader, was a virtually unknown army captain when he seized power in December 2008.

But he captured the imagination of a country desperately seeking change after the death of long-time leader Lansana Conte, who had also taken charge in a coup in 1984.

His popularity grew as he promised genuine democracy in the country, including a safe transition period and then presidential elections in which he would not stand.

He galvanised support from politicians, civil society groups and voters. Although both the West African regional body Ecowas and the African Union initially suspended Guinea, they have been generally supportive of his leadership and efforts to bring democracy.

In the first few months of his leadership, Capt Camara sought to further boost his popularity through a very public crackdown on the Guinean drug-trafficking industry.

Members of a trafficking ring were arrested and then quizzed on live television by the military leader himself.

Among those who admitted to drugs trafficking was the former president's son, Ousmane Conte.

Capt Camara's outlandish approach seemed a breath of fresh air after years of failed political promises.

He even made troops from the elite presidential guard beg on their knees for forgiveness on national TV for roughing up a general in July.

But his increasingly erratic leadership style and unpredictable behaviour has come in for criticism.

On several occasions, he has ordered politicians, civil society leaders and members of the public to shut up or even leave meetings, and is reported to have humiliated several foreign ambassadors.

UN peacekeeper

The BBC's Alhassan Sillah in Conakry says the military leader has often spoken of his humble beginnings.

He was born in 1964 in the village of Koure in the far south-east of Guinea, a forest area near the border with Liberia and Ivory Coast.

He moved to the capital, Conakry, without his family in order to further his studies, and claims to have sold kola nuts in the street to make ends meet.

He studied law and economics at the Gamal Abdel Nasser University of Conakry before joining the military in 1990. His military career was unremarkable, and included serving as United Nations peacekeeper in Sierra Leone in 2001-2002.

He never rose beyond the rank of captain, a position he gained following a mutiny he helped organise in February 2007.

He was also a leading player in a mutiny in May 2008, when rioting soldiers forced the government to pay overdue wages.

Captain Camara was also head of the Guinean army's fuel supplies unit, a position he used to gain a reputation for generosity with fellow military men.

Charade?

Yet he was little known outside military circles before December 2008, when six hours after Mr Conte's death, he appeared on state television, announcing a military coup d'etat. Several days later, he declared himself president.

Following the coup, he said he had not come to power by chance, listing a patriotic spirit and generosity among his leadership qualities.

His popularity has now dwindled, as he appears to be reneging on his promises of a transition to democracy and has shown signs of wanting to hold onto power.

He has recently indicated he might stand for president in the 2010 polls.

Captain Camara is known to be very close to the Conte family, and has several times spoken publicly of Conte's contribution to the country.

Despite the public dressing down of the former leader's son, no drug charges have been brought against him.

And it has led some critics to dismiss the television interrogations - and his promises of wanting democracy for Guinea - as a charade.

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