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Tens of Thousands of Guineans Attend Conte Funeral

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Thousands of Guineans turned out Friday to pay their respects to former President Lansana Conte, whose death this week sparked a military coup. Mutinous soldiers have consolidated power with the resignation of Guinea's prime minister.

Thousands of people took part in services marking President Conte's death.

Heads of state from neighboring Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone watched as Conte's coffin entered the People's Palace draped in Guinea's red, yellow, and green national flag. The prime minister of Mali attended the services as did African Union Commission Chairman Jean Ping.

Conte allies eulogized the long-time leader. Guinea's deposed Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare was joined by more than two dozen former government officials who have surrendered to mutinous soldiers.

Conte's coffin was taken to the city's central stadium where most people were dressed in white, the traditional Muslim color of mourning.

Coup leader Captain Moussa Camara did not attend the memorial services.  His second-in-command, General Mamadou Toto Camara did not explain the captain's absence but said the military reassures Guineans that it will guarantee their well-being.

General Camara said the military pays homage to President Conte and prays to God to give them the courage to continue his work of tolerance and peace.

Junior officers launched their coup Tuesday within hours of President Conte's death. Souare and other government officials tried to hang on to power, appealing for popular support and international pressure to put down the military take-over.

But a reporter for VOA in Conakry says no one tried to stop the mutinous soldiers. They paraded Captain Camara through the streets of the capital Wednesday evening, carrying him to the presidential palace and proclaiming him the nation's new leader.

Coup leaders consolidated their power with Souare's resignation Thursday. Addressing Captain Camara as the president of the newly-formed National Council for Democracy and Development, Souare said all members of the former government are at the military's disposal for the good of the nation.

Captain Camara had given former government officials until Thursday evening to turn themselves in or risk being caught-up in a nationwide sweep of those still loyal to the former government. Still unaccounted for is National Assembly Speaker Aboubacar Sompare who, under Guinea's constitution, should have been named president ahead of elections in 60 days.

The African Union, United States and European Union are calling for Guinea to quickly return to democratic rule.

Camara says his ruling council of six civilians and 26 soldiers will organize "free, credible, and transparent" elections in December 2010. He told reporters he will not be a candidate in that election because he said soldiers have no wish to cling to power.

A statement on national radio said coup leaders will meet with political, religious, and labor leaders Saturday morning ahead of talks with representatives from the United Nations, the
African Union, the European Union and the Group of Eight leading industrialized nations.

France currently holds the rotating chair of the European Union. A French Foreign Ministry spokesman said foreign diplomats will meet in the capital Conakry Saturday.

Lansana Conte was only Guinea's second head of state, ruling for nearly 25 years after taking power in a coup following the death of post-independence leader Ahmed Sekou Toure. President Conte was thought to be in his 70s and had been ill for some time. He was a heavy smoker who suffered from diabetes.

He first won election as president in 1993 in a vote protested by political opponents because some results were canceled. He survived a February 1996 army mutiny over pay in which at least 40 people were killed. The president was captured by mutineers who later freed him when he promised to raise salaries for troops.

President Conte was re-elected in 1998 after his main challenger was jailed for sedition. A referendum changing the constitution to remove term limits allowed President Conte to run again in 2003. Most opposition parties boycotted that ballot, and he was re-elected with more than 95 percent of the vote.  He survived a 2005 assassination attempt and a general strike and army mutiny last year.

President Conte is being buried in his village about 100 kilometers outside the capital.

 

 

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