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Guinea's Deadliest Day of Opposition Raises Human Rights Concerns

Union leaders in Guinea say they will pursue their strike, despite deadly violence that killed more than 20 people and injured dozens on Monday. But human-rights activists and aid workers are alarmed at conditions in Guinea as the protest finishes its second week. Phuong Tran reports from VOA's West Africa bureau in Dakar.

Upon their release after a night in jail, union leaders vowed to continue the strike.

One of National Council of Guinean Workers' leaders and principle organizers of the strikes, Ibrahima Fofona, says union leaders have no choice but to continue the strike.

Another detained union leader, Radiatou Serah Diallo, said negotiations are needed, but protesters are open to what she called different alternatives.

Protest organizers have called for President Lansana Conte to resign.

Union leaders have also called for a new prime minister with increased powers. President Conte's release of two allies jailed in connection with a corruption investigation prompted the protests.

Meanwhile, peaceful protests were held outside the capital, while in Conakry, heavily armed security forces patrolled the downtown area and main streets.

The prospect of a continued deadlock worries Alioune Tine with the Senegal-based African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights. He urges a peace delegation from the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, to hasten its visit.

"We have an emergency in Guinea," he said. "Outsiders [are] very useful in this very difficult time [when] people are combating for democracy and human rights to strengthen their struggle and denounce human rights [abuses] there."

ECOWAS leaders had planned the visit early in the week, but postponed the mediation attempt after a refusal from Guinea's government to welcome the group.

Aid workers say civilians are reeling from the strike's impact.

The two-week work stoppage has shut down banks and most public institutions, stopped production of the country's main mineral export, led to the cancellation of flights in and out of the country, and disrupted the delivery of food and medical supplies.

Director Mamady Cisse, of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies office in Nzerekore in southern Guinea, says he will run out of the supplies if the strike continues.

"We do not have access to our bank accounts to purchase dwindling medical supplies, and even if we did, we cannot get these shipments because of canceled flights. By the end of the month, we may face a major disruption in medical services," said Cisse.

Cisse is also concerned about food and income security.

He said, "Since the roads have been blocked off, producers in small villages cannot get their food products to the bigger markets, which threatens both city food supplies as well as rural producers' income."

But strikers say they are already suffering amid persistent poverty and inflation, and that what is most important is that President Conte give up his 23-year reign.

Union leaders say Mr. Conte was angry at how the military repressed marchers on Monday.

The chain-smoking, diabetic, and gravely ill president has not indicated any willingness to yield power.