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Guinea Protests Turn Deadly


Clashes in Guinea between protesters demanding the president's resignation and security forces claimed at least 20 lives and led to dozens of injuries. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from our regional bureau in Dakar.

Doctors in the capital Conakry said most of the victims had been shot at with real bullets.

Union leaders had called for large marches to begin on Monday, despite a government ban and a heavy military presence.

Youths took to the streets in the early morning hours, moving from the suburbs of the capital closer to the center.

Most of the shooting took place midday when waves of protesters approached the presidential palace and other government buildings.

The protesters called on President Lansana Conte to resign, saying he was a dictator who cheated in elections.

At one point, according to eye witnesses, security forces lobbed a grenade into an area where doctors were treating some of the wounded.

Local journalist Maseco Conde says union leaders were detained after nightfall.

Earlier, in a raid led by the president's own son, a special security force attacked an area where union leaders were meeting.

Deadly violence was also reported in other cities.

Analyst Gilles Yabi, with the Brussels-based International Crisis Group, says the protests would probably fizzle if a new prime minister was named.

"The minimum compromise would be the appointment of this prime minister with full powers, a kind of neutralization of President Conte," said Gilles Yabi. "And even this can be acceptable to the population. What the Guineans have been asking really now is for Conte to leave them, to go into a village, even retaining the title of president but not interfering in the affairs of the country, not interfering in the justice and not plunging and maintaining the country in a situation of dire poverty."

Guinea's opposition leaders said they feared they would also be arrested.

Mr. Conte declared Sunday he will stay in power and called on the army and population to support him.

The protests, which started 13 days ago, were sparked by the release of two of the president's aides who had been arrested as part of a corruption investigation. The diabetic, chain-smoking, Mr. Conte fired his prime minister last year and has ruled alone ever since.