CONAKRY – Tensions climb in Guinea as the West African country awaits results from last weekend’s presidential elections.
Preliminary results show Guinea’s President Alpha Conde, 82, ahead in the polls and the electoral commission said final results should be announced on Saturday.
Gunshots were heard Thursday morning in the capital, Conakry, while a strong security presence remained near neighborhoods with strong opposition support. This follows days of unrest after the opposition candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo, 68, claimed that he won the election and his party issued a statement calling him president.
Diallo's claim of victory before the official results had been announced set off celebrations by his supporters that were suppressed by security forces in which three youths were killed on Monday.
Guinea's security forces have surrounded Diallo's residence, prompted the opposition leader to post a video on Twitter, saying he was captive in his home while “young Guineans fall under the bullets of the defense and security forces.”
Diallo’s claim of victory infuriated Conde's supporters, resulting in violent protests.
“The situation remains tenuous and we’re expecting it to remain that way over the weekend as the results come out,” Christian Poonwah, director of Safe Access Consulting, an international security company currently working in Guinea told the AP by phone.
Since the vote, at least nine people have been killed in the West African country. Guinea’s security ministry said that four gunshot victims had been brought to local morgues in Conakry, while three other deaths were recorded in Kissidougou. A police officer was killed in Bambeto and another officer was fatally stabbed elsewhere, said the government.
Opposition supporters blame Conde for the unrest, saying the president eroded trust when he changed the constitution through a national referendum in March so that he could extend his 10 years in power through another term. Under the changes, Conde could serve up to 10 more years in power.
“I think the situation is going to get worse," said Sidy Yansane, a Guinean journalist based in Abidjan. "Politics is killing this country.”
When Conde came to power in 2010, in the country’s first democratic elections since independence from France in 1958, he was seen as a fresh start for a country wracked by decades of authoritarian rule.
This is the third time that Conde has faced Diallo and even before the vote, international observers raised concerns that an electoral dispute could reignite ethnic tensions. The two main candidates draw support from Guinea’s largest ethnic groups, the Malinke and the Peuhl and previous match-ups have resulted in violence.
A least 50 people have already been killed this year due to political violence, prompting U.N. Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, on the eve of the poll to urge political leaders to “refrain from acts of incitement, inflammatory language, ethnic profiling and violence.”
Rights groups say they’ve been warning the international community for months about “unlawful killings committed with complete impunity by members of the defense and security forces during opposition demonstrations,” said Fabien Offner, Guinea researcher at Amnesty International.
“Despite testimonies and videos implicating members of the armed defense and security forces in these killings, the authorities continue to deny their responsibility in these deaths, and do not conduct any serious investigation to find the perpetrators. Alpha Conde has repeatedly said in recent years that he had not come to Guinea to govern cemeteries. But it has become a reality, and the international community has done too little to prevent it,” he said.
Mednick contributed from Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.