- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 30, 2009

CONAKRY, Guinea | Soldiers reeking of alcohol fired into the air Tuesday, terrorizing residents a day after troops killed 157 people at a pro-democracy rally and shattered hopes that this West African country was shedding the yoke of dictatorship.

Hospitals were flooded with patients Tuesday, and the death toll rose through the day after presidential guard troops opened fire on 50,000 people at the main football stadium. Some of those at the rally, upset that a military officer who seized power in a December coup might run for president in January elections, had chanted: “We want true democracy.”

Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara’s presidential guard then opened fire with live ammunition, scattering panicked demonstrators who left scores of dead behind. Opposition politician Mutarr Diallo said he witnessed soldiers raping women with rifle butts. Capt. Camara, the coup leader who was not present at the stadium, said the violence was beyond his control.

“Those people who committed those atrocities were uncontrollable elements in the military,” he told Radio France International on Monday night. “Even I, as head of state in this very tense situation, cannot claim to be able to control those elements in the military.”

A Guinean opposition leader, Alpha Conde, said Tuesday that demonstrations would go on to rid the country of its “criminal regime.”

“We’ll continue with demonstrations until we get satisfaction. It’s no longer a matter of elections [slated for January 2010], but to get rid of this criminal regime that fires on youths at point-blank range,” Mr. Conde was quoted as saying in an Agence France-Presse report.

State Department spokesman Ian Kelly condemned what he called “the Guinean militarys brazen and inappropriate use of force against civilians.”

“We demand the immediate release of opposition leaders and a return to civilian rule as soon as possible,” he said in a statement. “The United States will continue to monitor the extralegal actions of the military and government as well as work with its international partners … to support a peaceful transition in Guinea.”

Human rights groups demanded that those responsible be made accountable.

“Guinea’s leaders should order an immediate end to attacks on demonstrators and bring to justice those responsible for the bloodshed,” said Corinne Dufka of Human Rights Watch.

Dr. Chierno Maadjou with the Guinean Organization for Defense of Human Rights said 157 people were killed and more than 1,200 wounded.

An Associated Press reporter saw wounded patients crowded into the large Donka Hospital, some with bullet wounds, others who appeared to have been beaten.

Guinea’s mineral-rich soil had been plundered by two consecutive dictatorships before Capt. Camara seized control of the country a day after President Lansana Conte, who had ruled for nearly a quarter-century, died Dec. 22. Capt. Camara initially was embraced by Guineans, thousands of whom lined the streets to applaud him as he rode through the capital on the back of a flatbed military truck.

But since then, tensions have risen amid rumors that Capt. Camara may run in presidential elections scheduled for Jan. 31. He initially indicated that he would not run but said recently he has the right to do so if he chooses.

Demonstrations against Capt. Camara have grown in recent weeks but the reaction by security forces had been comparatively moderate until this week’s rally.

Capt. Camara’s arrests of corrupt officials have won him admiration, but he has been criticized for his love of the spotlight and his insistence on broadcasting rambling, hours-long tirades. He generally sleeps all day only to emerge at night, and has a waiting room adorned with 6-foot-tall portraits of himself.

Since winning independence half a century ago from France, Guinea has been pillaged by its ruling elite. Its 10 million people are among the world’s poorest, even though its soil has diamonds, gold, iron and half the world’s reserves of the raw material used to make aluminum.

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