Tens of thousands of Guineans took to the streets on Monday in new anti-government protests, with violence between rival groups injuring at least 12 people in the east.
Crowds marched from the suburbs of the capital Conakry to the city centre in one of the biggest protests, and witnesses told AFP that demonstrators came out in cities including Labe, Pita, Dalaba, Mamou and Boke.
The West African country has been hit by rolling protests since mid-October over concerns President Alpha Conde plans to reform the constitution to attempt to stay in office for a third term.
About 20 people and one gendarme have died since the protests began, according to an AFP tally.
The protests again turned violent on Monday in the Conde stronghold of Kankan in the east — the president’s supporters attacking protesters and leaving at least 12 wounded, according to medical and security officials.
Meanwhile, protesters in Conakry came out dressed in red — the colour of the opposition — carrying placards reading “No to a new constitution” and “No to a third mandate for Alpha Conde”.
Former prime ministers Cellou Dalein Diallo and Sidya Toure were among the crowds in Conakry.
Conde, who announced a draft constitution last month, visited the western city of Kindia on Monday, where the population gave him a “warm welcome”, he said on Twitter.
An opposition march in the city was postponed after the intervention of local and religious officials to avoid clashes, according to sources.
“I promise you that what you could not have, your children will have. Guinea will advance,” 81-year-old Conde told his supporters, who carried signs claiming a new constitution would ensure the “development of Guinea”.
In his New Year wishes, Conde, who was elected in 2010 and reelected in 2015, reiterated his plan to organise legislative elections on February 16, despite calls for a boycott by the opposition.
Abdourahmane Sanoh, the coordinator of National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), an alliance of opposition groups behind the protests, said there were plans to increase the number of rallies from January 13.
“I ask that the whole Guinean people be ready from January 13,” he said.
– Ethnic strife –
Cheick Mohamed Kaba, an MP from the opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea party (UFDG), said pro-Conde militants in Kankan had “vandalised, ransacked and pillaged” property belonging to ethnic Fulani people.
The majority of UFDG supporters are Fulani, Guinea’s largest ethnic group.
Conde’s Rally of the Guinean People party draws most of its support from the country’s second-largest ethnic group, the Malinke.
The violence comes after the political opposition said it would stop the elections planned for February, citing irregularities in the electoral roll.
Conde is a former opposition figure himself who was jailed under Guinea’s previous authoritarian regimes.
He became the first democratically elected president in 2010. Under the present constitution, presidents are limited to two terms in office.
Despite initial hopes of a new political dawn, critics say his rule has become increasingly authoritarian. AFP