Saturday, February 24, 2007
Guinea lawmakers reject president's martial law requestCONAKRY, Guinea (Reuters) -- Guinea's Parliament on Friday refused a request from President Lansana Conte to extend martial law in a rare act of defiance against his autocratic rule over the West African country.
The period of martial law, imposed nationwide 11 days ago to quell violent protests accompanying a general strike, was to expire later Friday, but the president asked the National Assembly to prolong it, citing security concerns.
"The assembly deputies present unanimously refuse to renew martial law," National Assembly President Aboubacar Sompare told Parliament after a vote on Conte's request.
This meant the martial law rules, which gave the military sweeping search-and-arrest powers and imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew, would cease at midnight Friday.
Union leaders say Conte, a reclusive diabetic in his 70s who has ruled since 1984, is unfit to govern, and they are demanding he appoint a new, neutral prime minister with powers to hire and fire ministers. They had criticized Conte's plan to extend martial law and said their strike would continue until he named a new premier.
"The strike is maintained. ... This initiative of Conte's will only radicalize our movement," union negotiator Boubacar Biro Barry said before meeting West African mediators.
Strike leaders had relaunched their stoppage after he chose a close ally, Eugene Camara, as prime minister despite having agreed to name a consensus figure.
More than 120 people, mostly unarmed civilians, have been killed since the beginning of the year in clashes between security forces and protesters.
The imposition of martial law restored some calm to the former French colony, keeping protesters off the streets by giving the army the right to shoot looters and troublemakers.
Union leaders met with Nigeria's former military ruler, Gen. Ibrahim Babangida, who is leading a delegation from the Economic Community of West African States to push for a negotiated settlement.
The unrest in Guinea has raised concerns that growing protests could shatter a fragile peace in the wider region, particularly in neighboring Sierra Leone and Liberia, which are just starting to recover from civil wars.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said Conte must work with all parties to stop the political crisis from deteriorating into bloodshed and threatening neighbor states.
"If anything happens to Guinea, it could spill over. All our borders are porous," she told Reuters in an interview in Rwanda.