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Guineans Protest Government Failures


A top Guinean government official has gone to the eastern town of Kamsar to negotiate an end to protests that have blocked roads and interrupted business there. Over the past year, large numbers of Guineans have demonstrated against high inflation, increasing prices, and a plummeting standard of living.

Protesters in Kamsar and the nearby town of Fria built barricades of tires, wood, and iron in demonstrations that began on Sunday. The mostly female protesters accused the government of mismanaging money earmarked for infrastructure improvements. Last July, Russian mining company Rouski Alumina paid $5 million to pave roads in a project scheduled to begin last month.

Ahmed Tidiane Souare, Guinea's mining minister, is in Kamsar to meet with the protesters.

Nouhou Baldé, a local journalist with the Web site Guineenews, says that the talks, which also include representatives from the mining company and the unions, have so far been unable to bring a resolution.

The protests come just days after similar demonstrations paralyzed N'zérékoré, in southeastern Guinea.

"This is the latest in a series of protests about deteriorating economic conditions and the absolute failure of the government to respond to those conditions and respond to the needs of its population," said Dustin Sharp, a researcher for U.S.-based Human Rights Watch.

Earlier demonstrations and strikes were organized by labor unions and students over Guinea's economic decline. The country's inflation rate is estimated to be 40 percent or higher.

"Most of the people living in Guinea, since the mid-nineties, their salary has not changed a great deal. So they are still making 125,000 Guinean francs ten years later, but suddenly it is worth drastically less than it was," he said. "So I think it is just meeting those basic needs, getting one meal a day for your family, that is a challenge for far too many Guineans."

Sharp says the country has the world's largest bauxite reserves, as well as significant iron, diamond, gold and uranium deposits. However, few Guineans have benefited from their country's mineral wealth.

"We have seen economic protests across Guinea, but I think this contrast between the vast mineral wealth that Guinea has and the reality of people's lives on the ground, that contrast is a lot more stark in mining towns like Fria," he said.

Guinea is a multi-party constitutional republic, but elections have been marred by claims of fraud and unfair bias. President Lansana Conte came to power in a 1984 coup. The general, who is in his seventies, is seriously ill, and political analysts predict that questions surrounding his succession could destabilize the country.