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Guinea's Military Government Arrests Opponents

By Scott Stearns
29 October 2009

Military leaders in Guinea have arrested several leading pro-democracy advocates. The Obama Administration is restricting travel to the United States by members of the military government following the killing of opposition protestors one month ago.

Guinean soldiers arrested pro-democracy attorney Thierno Balde and several organizers of a youth hunger strike called to remember those killed and raped in a protest last month against the expected presidential candidacy of military ruler Captain Moussa Dadis Camara.

Balde is the director of Guinea's Research Institute on Democracy and Rule of Law and is a frequent source of information for international media, including the Voice of America.

Their arrests late Wednesday come as Guinea's military government is facing additional international sanctions for the September 28 killings.

The European Union has joined the Economic Community of West African States in an arms embargo against Guinea.

The U.S. State Department is restricting travel to the United States by certain members of the military government and others "who support policies or actions that undermine the restoration of democracy and the rule of law."

In a written statement, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly says Guineans "deserve the right to choose their own leaders after decades of authoritarian rule." He says the military government "has shown itself disrespectful of human rights and incapable of shepherding Guinea through a peaceful transition to democracy."

Captain Camara took power in a military coup last December following the death of long-time leader Lansana Conte. At the time, Captain Camara promised that no one in his ruling military council would stand for election.

But that council has since decided that all Guineans are eligible to run for president in a vote scheduled for January. Captain Camara has not formally announced his candidacy, but he has told supporters he will not insult them by ignoring their demands that he run.

It is the expectation of his candidacy that demonstrators were protesting September 28. Human rights groups say soldiers opened fire on crowds that day, killing at least 157 people. The military government says 57 people were killed, most in the crush of people fleeing the stadium.

Captain Camara is promising to cooperate with a U.N. investigation into that killing. He blames his political opponents and what he calls "uncontrollable elements" of the military.

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