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Guinea's President Returns Home from Swiss Hospital


Guinea President Lansana Conte has returned to the capital, Conakry, after receiving medical treatment in Switzerland. There had been scant information concerning his health over the past week, and experts feared his absence could spark increased instability.

Even before his airplane touched down at the international airport in Conakry, thousands of the city's residents turned out to welcome President Lansana Conte home.

Guinean journalist Maseco Conde was at the airport.

All the way from the intersection at the airport into the city center, he said that people, many of them school children, lined the roads waiting for the motorcade to pass.

From the airport, said the journalist, the president was to attend a meeting in town to discuss the current state of his health following a nearly weeklong hospital stay in Switzerland.

The aging Mr. Conte, a diabetic chain smoker who has ruled the country since seizing power in a coup 22 years ago, was admitted to the hospital last Saturday. Rumors had circulated that he was fighting leukemia, but there had been little reliable information on the state of his condition.

European radio reports stated that Mr. Conte was surviving on a respirator were contradicted by Guinean diplomatic officials in Geneva, who said the president's condition was improving.

The confusion led to unease in Guinea, where residents in Conakry lined up to buy short-wave radios to follow the latest developments.

Regional experts feared increased unrest and political turmoil could result from what many expected to be Mr. Conte's death. Last year, the International Crisis Group published a report warning that Guinea could be the next West African nation to slip into civil war, if questions over who will rule when President Conte dies are not resolved. Some Guineans this week were worried the military might try to seize power.

For now, however, those fears have been allayed with Mr. Conte's return, according to one man who waited for hours to watch the president pass.

"Students, mothers, fathers, and children, Everyone is happy to be here to see the return of the president," he said. " We hope God will grant him health and a long life."

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