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Unions in Guinea Prepare for Meetings to End Strike


Some union leaders in Guinea are preparing for a new round of talks with the government to end a crippling strike, but others say martial law must first be lifted. More than 100 people have been killed since an anti-government strike began in January. Naomi Schwarz reports from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.

Some union leaders are refusing to renew negotiations with the government, until it lifts the martial law that was imposed on Monday.

But other union leaders say they are ready to negotiate.

Yamadou Touré, a leader of the National Organization of Guinean Trade Unions, says the more than 400 unions need to decide together what demands to put to the government.

He also says he is optimistic a deal can be reached.

Radiatou Diallo, another union leader at the National Confederation of Guinean Workers, and the main leader when the strikes began, agreed to come to talks, but said she would not stay, if the head of the military is not present.

Alpha Oumar Konaré, chief executive of the African Union, has written to Guinean President Lansana Conté condemning what he calls "the disproportionate violence against Guinea's civilian population," that led to many deaths.

Reports say there have been abuses by military forces and President Lansana Conté's guards, as well as looting and violence by civilians.

Gilles Yabi, an analyst with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, says the African Union president has been an important voice condemning the violence since the beginning. But, he says, the international community needs to intervene more directly.

"We need an international mediator to engage directly with President Conté and the head of the military," he said. "I think, without heavy pressure from the African Union, but also a call to the leaders in Guinea to restrain and to go back to a political settlement, it is difficult to see a way out of the crisis."

However, aside from a visit by Guinea-Bissau's president, Mr. Conte has refused all other mediation attempts.

The nation-wide strike began on January 10 as union leaders and the Guinean public called for a new government following a corruption scandal. Mr. Conté, who came to power in a 1984 coup, is seriously ill and the union leaders said he was unable to lead the country out of its deteriorating economic situation.

The strike was suspended after nearly three weeks, when Mr. Conté agreed to union leaders' demands to appoint a consensus prime minister, and to give him wide-ranging reform powers.

Violence erupted, and the strike resumed on February 9, when Mr. Conté nominated Eugene Camara, a former prime minister and staunch supporter of the president, who, opponents said, could not be independent.

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