Guinea's Military Ruler Tries to Distance Himself from Violence
By Scott Stearns
29 September 2009
Guinea's military ruler is trying to distance himself from the violence that killed at least 58 people in the capital on Monday who were protesting his possible candidacy in next year's presidential election.
Military ruler Captain Moussa Dadis Camara told Senegal's RFM radio that he was disgusted when he was told about the violence at Conakry's September 28 Stadium, where witnesses say security services opened fire on opposition protesters.
Captain Camara said he wanted to see for himself what was happening at the stadium because he was unaware of the events.
He told the Senegalese radio station that he would rather die than see people killed because, he said, he did not take power in a military coup last December to have a confrontation with the Guinean people.
The military government on Sunday banned all public demonstrations ahead of Friday's national independence celebrations. But opposition parties, civil society groups and trade unions went ahead with Monday's protest.
Several opposition leaders were arrested and taken to Guinea's main military barracks.
Captain Camara said he has asked about the condition of detained opposition leaders and was told that they are in good health.
Monday's demonstration against Captain Camara's anticipated run for the presidency was the largest public opposition he has faced since the coup. It was also the most violent incident of his nine months in power.
The scale of the killing will be difficult to determine because the military reportedly is collecting bodies themselves rather than allowing them to be counted at public morgues.
Former colonial power France is condemning "the violent repression exercised by the army" during a peaceful demonstration. A statement by the French Foreign Ministry says the ruling military council should "show responsibility" and "listen to the Guinean people's legitimate aspiration to democratically choose their leaders." It says Captain Camara not standing for election "would allow for calm to return."
Captain Camara initially said none of the coup leaders would run for office. But the ruling military council now says all Guineans are entitled to run. While he has not formally announced his candidacy, Captain Camara has told supporters that he will not insult them by ignoring their demands to stand as a candidate in presidential elections scheduled for January.
Guinea is suspended from the Economic Community of West African States and the African Union because of the coup. The African Union says it is concerned about the "deteriorating situation" in Guinea and that it will impose unspecified sanctions on Captain Camara next month, unless he makes clear that he will not run for president.
The Guinean ruler so far has enjoyed the public support of a handful of African heads of state, most notably Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade.
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