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Guinea Strike Leaders Reject President's Offer

Authorities in Guinea have detained several leaders of an escalating general strike that has paralyzed the African nation. A government plea issued Tuesday night for workers to return to their jobs was rejected. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our West Africa bureau in Dakar.

Journalist Maseco Conde was on the scene of unrest amid tear gas Wednesday in Conakry. He says security forces coming from several directions roughed up a group of several hundreds protesters trying to march toward the national assembly.

Some of them, major union leaders, were injured and detained. Others were able to make it to the parliament to discuss their demands and deliver a letter to lawmakers.

Workers at Guinea's CBG national bauxite company also downed tools, in one of the country's most lucrative mines at Sangaredi. Conakry remained mostly deserted, with schools, shops and offices closed on the eighth day of the protest action.

The strike's continuation came despite a statement read out by the president of the national assembly Tuesday night, saying the government was ready to cut gas prices, stop some exports, including fish, promote youth employment and discipline police.

The statement asked Guineans to get back to work.

Union leaders say they want a new government of national unity and the return to jail of two allies of President Lansana Conte in a corruption investigation.

A unilateral intervention by the president to release the two men prompted the protest action, amid soaring prices, grinding poverty and crumbling government services.

With no end in sight to the protest, the New-York-based group Human Rights Watch called on security forces to exercise restraint.

Analyst Dustin Sharp is closely monitoring the situation. He says the government seems to have the upper hand over union leaders at this point.

"The vast majority of Guineans live day by day," he said. "They live hand to mouth and it is very difficult for them to sustain a strike for more than a week or two. So people simply run out of food, they run out of money, and they need to work. So maybe the government is counting on that and time is on their side in that sense."

President Conte has been in power since a 1984 coup, despite deteriorating health and repeated reports he is gravely ill.