AGENCIES | Reuters | Conakry – Guinea – An elite national army unit has announced it has seized power in Guinea and deposed the country’s president, Alpha Condé, in an attempted coup, after heavy gunfire was heard near the presidential palace in the capital, Conakry, on Sunday morning.
Soldiers announced the country’s leadership had been deposed in the latest political upheaval to beset the mineral-rich and impoverished west African country, amid conflicting claims of who was in power.
Col Mamadi Doumbouya, the head of the unit and leader of the coup attempt, sat draped in the country’s flag during a brief address on the national broadcaster, Radio Television Guinea and said the country’s parliament and constitution had been suspended and the borders shut.
“We are taking our destiny in our own hands,” he said, further criticising the state of the country under the 83-year-old president. “The personalisation of political life is over. We will no longer entrust politics to one man, we will entrust it to the people.”
But at the same time, the defence ministry said an attack on the presidential palace by mutinous forces had been put down, deepening a sense of confusion at the nature of the events.
“The presidential guard, supported by the loyalist and republican defence and security forces, contained the threat and repelled the group of assailants,” it said in a statement. “Security and combing operations are continuing to restore order and peace.”
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, on Sunday condemned the apparent seizure of power by the military unit. “I strongly condemn any takeover of the government by force of the gun and call for the immediate release of President Alpha Condé,” he said.
The wellbeing of Condé, in power since 2010, has also not been confirmed, but pictures circulating on social media showed soldiers surrounding the president as he leaned back on a sofa in bare feet, in jeans and a partially open shirt and vest.
In the televised address, Doumbouya said elites in the country had mistreated the country and that there would be an 18-month transition period. In videos posted on social media, civilian supporters of the coup were seen hailing soldiers during the city, crying “freedom”.
Unrest had erupted on Sunday morning when residents in Conakry shared videos on social media of military vehicles patrolling the streets.
Witnesses told Reuters they had seen two civilians with gunshot wounds amid the fighting. “I see groups of soldiers heading towards the presidency. There has been a lot of shooting,” said Ousmane Camara in the central district of Kaloum, which was deserted and under heavy military presence. There were unconfirmed reports on Sunday of military casualties, and a reporter for Reuters witnessed an ambulance and military convoys approaching the palace vicinity.
Witnesses said soldiers had sealed off the only bridge connecting the mainland to the Kaloum neighbourhood, which houses the presidential palace and most government ministries.
The unrest in Guinea comes less than a year after Condé – a former widely respected activist and veteran opposition figure – won a third term last November, to widespread dismay. Last March, Guinea voted on a controversial referendum approving changes to the constitution, allowing the president to serve a further two terms. The opposition boycotted the referendum and more than 40 people died in violent protests before the vote.
The upheaval in Guinea also comes amid deepening political unrest in west Africa and fears that democratic gains in many countries are regressing, with a resurgence of third-term bids and attempts to amend constitutions across the region.
In May, a second military coup within a year in Mali brought a young colonel to power in the country beset with jihadist violence, which is rising in the Sahel. Last year, Ivory Coast’s president, Alassane Ouattara, won a controversial third term, running for office after previously pledging to step down.
Condé’s grip on power has sparked outrage in the mineral-rich coastal nation of 12 million people. The president has overseen a rise in economic growth and development yet Guinea remains highly unequal and impoverished, with much of its young population seeing its future outside of the country.
Last week, Condé sparked further outrage after a bill was passed increasing his salary.