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Youths in Guinea Riot After President Dismisses Minister


Angry youth in Guinea have taken to the streets in the capital Conakry, burning tires and building barricades, after the president fired the communications minister. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our West Africa bureau in Dakar.

Black smoke rose over Conakry, while shops in the main Madina market closed down. Angry young men ran through the streets carrying stones and brandishing pieces of wood. They said they would not accept the president's decision to dismiss a minister without consulting the prime minister.

The dismissal and protests follow a controversial new year's message signed by long-standing President Lansana Conte and posted on the website of Guinea's state news agency.

It said the government of Prime Minister Lansana Kouyate has been a disappointment in many areas, and that Guinea needs to shape up in its 50th year after independence.

The now-fired communications minister, Justin Morel Junior, a close Kouyate ally, responded to the new year's message by reading a statement on state television, saying the words attributed to the president were written by extremists "nostalgic for a past that no longer exists."

Junior was fired Thursday by presidential decree and replaced by Issa Conde, until now the director of Guinea's national press agency.

In December, President Conte signed a decree giving more control within the government to one of his closest allies, the presidency secretary-general, Sam Mamadi Soumah.

A regional analyst with Brussels-based Crisis Group, Gilles Yabi, says Mr. Kouyate's power is quickly diminishing.

"This is really the responsibility of the prime minister to coordinate the activity of the government, so from early December, it was very clear that we have seen a kind of shifting of power from Prime Minister Lansana Kouyate to President Lansana Conte again," said Yabi. "Of course, we can expect some reaction from the population and the civil society and perhaps the trade unions, after these signs of President Lansana Conte regaining full power after the events of January and February 2006."

Mr. Kouyate was named prime minister with expanded powers last year after violent union-led protests demanded that President Conte reduce prices on staple goods, improve services and reduce his control of the government.

Yabi says the current crisis comes as Mr. Kouyate was finally starting to bring improvement to the daily lives of Guineans, after a slow start where he spent most of his time abroad looking for aid.

"There has been some clear improvement in social services, water, electricity, and all these issues were really the core reason of the general strike and the massive demonstrations last year," said Yabi.

"So now we have a kind of mixed evaluation of the performance of Kouyate's government. Clearly, we cannot talk about real revolution, a kind of real break from Conte's system, but this is also due to the fact Prime Minister Kouyate did not have full powers and he has to get the approval and the signature of President Conte for all decrees," he added.

The chain-smoking, diabetic President Conte, who can barely walk, has been in power since a coup in 1984, followed by successive elections, deemed by the opposition and foreign observers as fraudulent.

New legislative polls are due this year.

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