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Guinea Launches First National Day of Reconciliation

Guinea held its first national day of reconciliation Monday, less than a week before the country's much-awaited presidential election.

Just six days away from a presidential poll that many hope will be Guinea's first free and fair vote since independence, the country celebrated another first.

Officials launched the country's first national day of reconciliation Monday in Conakry.

Interim President Sekouba Konate calls on Guineans to forgive each other. He says just as we should be able to remember the past, we should also sometimes be able to forget it in the interest of national unity. He says on this solemn occasion, he asks forgiveness from all Guineans on behalf of his predecessors and all authorities who have committed abuses and attacks. He says "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

It is a time of tenuous transition and great optimism for Guinea, as the country tries to turn the page on more than 50 years of dictatorial rule and two years of political crisis.

In September of last year, more than 150 people were killed and dozens of women raped during a military attack on an opposition protest in Conakry, sparking international investigations.

General Konate is head of the regionally-backed transitional government organizing the presidential election, intended to return the country to civilian government after a military junta seized power in December 2008.

Konate says on June 27 our country, which has already known many challenges in its history, will be confronted by another test. He says Guinea will elect its president for the first time without pressure and in total transparency. He says though certain people think Guinea will emerge divided from these elections, he is convinced that Guinea will emerge stronger and reunited as a country that has once again found its way after repeated tragedies and violence.

Konate also said Guinea should fight impunity and seek compensation and justice for victims.

Hadja Rabiatou Sera Diallo is president of the National Transition Council that organized Monday's event. She says the time has come for a reconciliation founded on truth and justice. She says we must recognize all the serious attacks on their lives and their liberty that Guineans have suffered. This truth and justice, she says, demands moral and material restitution for victims, but it also demands forgiveness.

Election preparations continue this week, as many of the 24 presidential candidates return to Conakry for the last leg of campaigning.

Though logistical challenges remain, such as ensuring polling stations have adequate staff and voting materials, observers from the Carter Center said Monday they are encouraged to see themes of national reconciliation and unity being reflected in, what they called, the largely positive tone of the electoral campaign.

Guineans go to the polls this Sunday.