Guinean general strike continues as martial law relaxed


Life is slowly returning to relative normality in Guinea now that the government has eased a curfew imposed after nationwide unrest, but the general strike is ongoing.

Submitted by Ed on February 21, 2007

President Lansana Conte called the curfew on 12 February to curb widespread looting and rioting, which had swept the capital, Conakry, and towns across the country during protests calling for his resignation.

Originally in force for 20 hours every day, authorities cut the curfew to six hours at the end of last week, and on Monday reduced it further to keep Guineans off the streets between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m.

On Tuesday, pedestrians ventured onto the main roads of Conakry, but taxis were still a rare sight. Long cues formed at service stations in Conakry. Many of them were looted during the unrest on 12 February.

In the first days of martial law, Conakry was deserted as Guineans cowered at home from truckloads of soldiers careering around the city, shooting in the air, and according to human rights watchdogs and many Guineans, looting, raping and beating people they found outside.

Banks, shops and government offices were still closed on Tuesday, respecting a strike order called by Guinea’s powerful unions last Monday to protest President Conte’s choice of prime minister, who they say is not independent.

But at the market of Yenguema in the neighbourhood Kaloum some stalls opened again.

“We are very happy about the relaxation of the curfew,” said Macire Fofana, a market trader.

Hawa Bangoura, shopping for food at the market, said she was worried that the army would start attacking people again.

“I am certain that some people are dying of hunger in their homes,” she said.

“We will perhaps go out to because of the need for food, and the army will perhaps start using their guns to kill us,” she said, adding that she only left her house once all the food was gone.

At least 113 people were killed in demonstrations in Guinea in recent weeks, according to government and aid agency officials in Conakry.

Guinea’s union leaders and other members of civil society, including religious representatives and the political opposition, have been in talks with government officials since Saturday aimed at ending the crisis.

The unions have previously said they will not call off the strike until President Conte resigns, and had said they would not enter into negotiations until martial law was revoked.

West African leaders have appointed former Nigerian president Ibrahim Babangida as its special envoy to Guinea.

Babangida met with Conte on Saturday and said on Tuesday in the Burkina Faso capital, Ouagadougou, that he will go back “soon” to meet with Conte again.

According to Babanguida, his mission to Guinea followed concerns expressed by African heads of state about the regional implications of Guinea’s unrest. "We must be able to come and have a look at the situation so that we don't allow it to deteriorate,” he said.