CONAKRY, Guinea – Insurgent soldiers in the West African nation of Guinea arrested President Alpha Conde on Sunday after hours of heavy gunfire rang out near the presidential palace in the capital, and then announced on state television that the government had been dissolved in an apparent coup was’ etat.
The country’s borders have been closed and its constitution declared invalid in the announcement read on state television by Army Colonel Mamadi Doumbouya saying to the Guineans: “A soldier’s duty is to save the country.”
“We will no longer entrust politics to a man. We will entrust it to the people, ”said Doumbouya, who is wrapped in a Guinean flag and flanked by about half a dozen other soldiers at his side.
However, it was not immediately known how much support Doumbouya had within the military or whether other soldiers who have been loyal to the president for more than a decade might try to regain control.
The junta later announced plans to replace Guinea’s governors with regional commanders at an event on Monday, warning: “Any refusal to appear will be viewed as a rebellion against the country’s new military leaders.
The West African regional bloc ECOWAS quickly condemned the developments and threatened sanctions if Conde was not released immediately. UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres tweeted that he strongly condemned “any violent takeover of government”.
The US State Department warned of violence and called on the Guinean authorities to avoid “extra-constitutional” measures that “only undermine Guinea’s prospects for peace, stability and prosperity”. Spokesman Ned Price added in a statement that “the junta’s actions could limit the ability of the United States and Guinea’s other international partners to support the country.”
Conde’s whereabouts had been unknown for hours after Sunday’s intense fighting in downtown Conakry until a video surfaced showing the 83-year-old leader, tired and disheveled, in military custody.
The junta later released a statement that Conde was in contact with his doctors. But they didn’t give a schedule for his release other than saying, “Everything will be fine. When the time comes, we will make a statement. “
Conde, who had been in power for more than a decade, had seen his popularity plummet since going for a third term last year and said the term limits did not apply to him. The dramatic developments on Sunday underscored how dissent had also increased within the military.
Doumbouya, who had been in command of the army’s special unit, urged other soldiers to “take the side of the people” and stay in their barracks. The Army Colonel said he was acting in the best interests of the nation, citing the lack of economic progress by the leaders since the country gained independence from France in 1958.
“When you see the state of our roads, when you see the state of our hospitals, you find that after 72 years it is time to wake up,” he said. “We have to wake up.”
However, observers say the tension between Guinea’s president and the army colonel stems from a recent proposal to cut some military salaries.
Heavy shots broke out near the presidential palace on Sunday morning and lasted for hours, sparking fears in a nation that has seen multiple coups and assassination attempts on the president. The Department of Defense initially claimed the attack had been repulsed by security forces, but uncertainty grew when there was no further sign of Conde on state television or radio.
The following developments are strongly reflected in other military coups in West Africa: The Army Colonel and his colleagues took control of the airwaves, professing democratic values and making their names known: The National Committee for Rally and Development.
It was a dramatic setback for Guinea, where many had hoped the country had changed the side of the military takeover.
Conde’s 2010 election victory – the country’s first ever democratic vote – was meant to be a fresh start for a country plagued by decades of corrupt, authoritarian rule and political unrest. In the years that followed, however, opponents said that Conde, too, had failed to improve the lives of the Guineans, most of whom live in poverty despite the country’s vast mineral resources of bauxite and gold.
In the year following his first election, he barely survived an assassination attempt after gunmen surrounded his home overnight and bombed his bedroom with rockets. Rocket propelled grenades landed on the site and one of his bodyguards was killed.
Violent street demonstrations broke out last year after Conde organized a referendum to amend the constitution. Unrest deepened after he won the October election, with the opposition saying dozens were killed during the crisis.
Guinea has a long history of political instability. In 1984 Lansana Conte took control of the country after the first post-independence leader died. He remained in power for a quarter of a century until his death in 2008, accused of siphoning government coffers to enrich his family and friends.
The country’s second coup soon followed, in which Army Captain Moussa “Dadis” Camara took command. During his reign, security forces opened fire at a stadium in Conakry on protesters protesting his plans to run for president. According to human rights groups, more than 150 people were killed and at least 100 women were raped. Camara later went into exile after surviving an assassination attempt, and a transitional government organized the landmark 2010 elections, which Conde won.