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Guinea's President Appoints New Prime Minister

The president of Guinea, Lansana Conte, has nominated Lansana Kouyate, an international diplomat, to the post of prime minister after a month and a half of strike action and violent unrest. Mr. Kouyate was on the list of candidates approved by strike leaders in a deal with President Conte. Kari Barber reports from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar.

After the announcement made on state broadcasts Monday, Guineans filed into the streets of the the capital Conakry, honking horns and cheering to celebrate Mr. Kouyate's nomination.

Mr. Kouyate, Guinea's representative to the International Francophone Organization, was one of the names on a list of candidates approved by civil society and union leaders in a strike-ending deal made Sunday with Mr. Conte.

Strike leaders said they wanted a prime minister who was not too close to the current government, had never been tainted by corruption or scandals and was a technocrat.

The president's nomination earlier this month of Eugene Camara was met with outrage by union leaders who said Camara, a high-ranking member of Mr. Conte's party, was too close to the president. The nomination was followed by mounting violence and a renewed nation-wide strike.

Dustin Sharp, an analyst with Human Rights Watch who has been working in Guinea, says the nomination is a tribute to the work of civil society in the country.

"The resolve and determination they have shown to finally push through and get a prime minister named that was one of the ones put on their list is an amazing achievement for civil society. This is a civil society that as little as a year ago many outside observers pronounced as dead, sleepy, ineffective. To see how far things have come in the last year is pretty incredible," he said.

Sharp says the national assembly's unanimous vote Friday to reject Mr. Conte's request to extend martial law, which he initiated earlier this month, may have been a sign to the president that support , even within his own ranks, was dwindling.

Sharp says while Mr. Kouyate's nomination is a good sign the country is moving forward, the new prime minister will have a difficult task ahead.

"It is one thing to name the prime minister, it is another thing for the prime minister to be able to work with the current president who, all things being said, is still there and still in power. It is another thing all together for that prime minister to be able to turn this government around. There is plenty of work to do," he said.

Union leaders began the strike in mid January to protest economic hardship and government corruption. Many called for Mr. Conte to step down, saying the 72-year-old leader who suffers from poor health is no longer fit to rule the country.

Mr. Conte took power in a military coup 23 years ago.