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Guinea Avoids New National Strike


Union leaders in Guinea urged workers not to go on strike Monday, the day unions had set as a deadline for resolving disputes that sparked protests early this year. But while a strike has been averted for now, rights groups say Guinea has a long way to go to ease rising socio-economic and political tensions. Nancy Palus reports from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.

Residents of the Guinean capital, Conakry, told VOA people seemed to be going about their work as normal.

Union leader Louis M'Bemba Soumah says a civil society coalition - set up in January after unions agreed to suspend a strike call pending talks - encouraged people to go to work as usual on Monday. He says a sort of panic had set in surrounding the date of March 31, but that union leaders wanted to tell people that the date should not trigger a national strike. It was simply put forth as a target date for the national committee to finalize its work.

Human rights groups say Guinea is still reeling from a national strike in early 2007 that led to demonstrations and a crackdown by security forces in which hundreds of people were killed. The nation returned to calm only after the naming of a consensus prime minister and a power-sharing deal to address some of the protesters' grievances.

Following protests earlier this year over moves by long-time President Lansana Conte seen as violating that deal, including his firing of a minister, unions called for a strike but agreed to suspend the call until March 31 pending talks.

Union leader Soumah says a number of issues have yet to be resolved and a call for fresh national strikes has not been ruled out. He says the committee will soon present a report and recommendations for reforms to President Conte. At that point, he says, if unions see that the authorities fail to answer their grievances then union leaders will decide whether to call for a strike.

Guinea has vast natural resources, including one of the world's largest reserves of bauxite, which is used to produce aluminum. But the country's infrastructure is poor and most of the people struggle to feed their families and do not have regular access to water and electricity.

Mr. Conte, whose health has deteriorated in recent years, has ruled since a military coup in 1984.

Mamadi Kaba is head of the Guinean office of the African human rights coalition known as RADDHO. He says the people want better living conditions and are ready to strike again if need be. He says people are "dismayed" at the lack of reform since last year's accords. Kaba says people appear ready to take to the streets at any moment because they desperately want change.

As in other countries in West Africa and around the world, in Guinea the prices of fuel and staple foods are climbing, adding to social tensions.

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