Guinea

Guinea: Army agitation shows the government is fragile

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CONAKRY, 8 May 2007 (IRIN) - Rioting last week by soldiers in two towns and in the capital Conakry, suggests that the government's grip on the country remains fragile.

"The general feeling is one of impatience; that there has been a lot of talk but no action," Elisabeth Cote, who represents the Washington-based election support NGO IFES in Guinea told IRIN.

Soldiers reportedly shot into the air in their barracks on Thursday and Friday night. In one city they strafed a residential area with machine guns, killing at least two people.

Widespread civilian rioting occurred earlier this year in almost every major town in the country with mobs demanding the resignation of President Lansana Conte. The demonstrations ended in late February after Conte agreed to devolve some of his powers and appoint a new prime minster, Lansana Kouyate.

The army's loyalty to President Conte and willingness to enforce martial law was seen as key to his ability to remain in power after weeks of nationwide demonstrations.

Cote, who returned this week from a trip in Guinea's interior, said the army is not the only source of potential instability in the country.

People everywhere are waiting to see whether the new government can perform, she said, pointing especially to the need for running water and reliable electricity which are extremely scarce even in the dilapidated country's capital and almost non-existent elsewhere.

On Friday, Prime Minister Kouyate met with army leaders to discuss their demands but they insisted on an "eye to eye" meeting with President Conte, according to a military spokesman.

On Monday, the military presented a list of demands including the payment of 300 million GFr [US $ 85,000], the reintegration of soldiers sacked after a rebellion in 1996 and personnel changes including the promotion for most soldiers by one grade.

In the same statement the army "reaffirmed" its support for the prime minister and the government. "Things have calmed down but I don't think the military is going to wait long so immediate action needs to be taken," Cote said.

She said chaos can be averted as long as the government responds to the army's demands while working to improve social services. However local administrations have almost completely collapsed in the interior, Cote said. Local government offices in 30 of 32 provincial capitals were sacked during riots earlier this year and many where destroyed.

mc/nr/dh

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