Guinea unions give Conte ultimatum over premier

Guinea unions give Conte ultimatum over premier

Union leaders in Guinea have given President Lansana Conte one week to name a prime minister, saying they will restart a suspended general strike in the West African country if he fails, a union negotiator said on Tuesday.

The public ultimatum reflects the suspicions of union bosses that Conte is dragging his feet over implementing a deal agreed 10 days ago to end an 18-day nationwide stoppage which had paralysed the world’s No. 1 exporter of bauxite.

Unions had demanded the naming of a prime minister with strong government powers because they said the president, a reclusive diabetic in his 70s, was no longer fit to rule.

But more than a week after the deal in which unions suspended the strike, Conte has not yet named the premier.

Union bosses decided to give him a one-week ultimatum after meeting on Monday.

“We’ve decided to take firm action if this situation continues … We’ll restart the strike from the 12th (of February), if the prime minister is not named by then,” union negotiator Boubacar Biro Barry told Reuters.

There was no immediate response from the government.

The 18-day general strike, the biggest challenge yet to Conte’s near quarter century in power, triggered clashes between protesters and police and soldiers in which more than 90 people were killed and at least 300 injured, according to a local human rights group.


Justice Minister Alseny Rene Gomez appeared on state TV late on Monday to promise the government would open an impartial inquiry into the killings.

Witnesses and rights activists say most of the deaths occurred on Jan. 22, when soldiers and police opened fire to halt thousands of demonstrators who were marching on the administrative heart of the oceanside capital Conakry.

Conte’s government also announced late on Monday a ban on the export and re-export of basic food products, such as rice and palm oil, and fuel products. This followed earlier measures to cap domestic prices for these goods.

These were among the demands agreed with the union bosses to try to improve living standards in the former French colony, where despite the country’s mineral riches most of the nearly 10 million population live in poverty.

Looters stopped and pillaged a truck carrying food in the eastern city of Kankan on Monday, officials said.

Union negotiator Barry said popular pressure for reform was strong: “We’ve already clearly stated that anyone who violates the terms agreed will face the wrath of the population”.

Conte said last week the new premier would be the head of government, free to propose his own team of ministers, organise the country’s civil administration and be allowed to represent the head of state at international functions.

Sources at the presidency said half a dozen Guinean personalities had been consulted about taking the prime minister’s job, but had declined.

Guinea’s strategic bauxite industry, the world’s biggest exporter of the ore from which aluminium is extracted, has resumed full operations since the strike was suspended.


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