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Archive for Saturday, December 27, 2008

Loyalists mourn longtime dictator

December 27, 2008

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— Tens of thousands of loyalists on Friday mourned the dictator who ruled Guinea for nearly a quarter-century, lining the roads to the lavish palace grounds where he was buried and crowding around his grave.

Lansana Conte, who took power in 1984, was the only leader many Guineans had ever known. Though he was widely seen as corrupt and authoritarian, many saw stability under him as preferable to the bloody civil wars elsewhere in West Africa. His death Monday at the age of 74 has left the country, one of the world’s poorest, in political turmoil.

The leader of a military coup declared hours after Conte’s death did not attend the public memorial, surprising mourners and causing speculation about the reason. Capt. Moussa Camara had promised a “grandiose funeral” for Conte.

Later Friday, residents in the capital reported hearing volleys of gunfire near the military barracks that are home to the coup leaders and at another military camp nearby. In a state radio broadcast, spokesman Nouhou Thiam said the coup leaders were “vigorously” enforcing an 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

A mechanic who lives near one of the barracks said the gunshots rang out unexpectedly Friday evening.

“We were at the mosque for the evening prayer when it started, and everybody headed toward the doors so that they could quickly return home,” Saliou Bah said.

Conte died Monday after ruling Guinea since he seized power in a coup following the death of his predecessor. They had been the only two leaders since the country’s 1958 independence from France.

Men in uniform wept and collapsed and women wailed at Conte’s funeral in Moussayah, the town where Conte was born and maintained a hotel-sized residence surrounded by manicured lawns, landscaped shrubs and statues of animals.

Shouting security forces joined hands and formed a massive human cordon around Conte’s grave as thousands of people tried to push forward.

The military took Conte’s body out of its coffin and placed it directly into the earth. A scrum broke out as people tried to join in throwing fistfuls of dirt into the gaping hole, and a cloud of dust rose. One of the president’s guards was led away weeping, his face buried in his hands.

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