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Guinea President Dismisses Top Military Officials

Guinea's President Lansana Conte has dismissed several top military officials, including the minister of defense, after a week of protests by soldiers angry over back pay and military leadership. Kari Barber reports from our regional bureau in Dakar that the meeting between soldiers and President Conte has been rescheduled for Monday.

Guinea's Minister of Defense General Arafan Camara, armed forces chief General Kerfalla Camara (no relation) and his assistant, along with one other top military official, have been removed from their positions.

This comes after soldiers fired shots in the air during the past week and a half, demanding back pay and the dismissal of top commanders. Several civilians were killed by stray bullets.

Friday, hundreds of soldiers took to the streets, marching on the capital. Presidential security halted the march before it reached the presidential palace.

Rolake Akinola with the London-based analysis group Control Risks says the soldiers helped keep Mr. Conte in power during union-led, nationwide strikes and protests in January and February when strike leaders called for the president to resign.

"They came to Conte's aid during the nationwide political crisis and the strike, so what we are seeing is sort of an attempt by the army to gain leverage in the entire process, particularly the junior officers who were behind this latest mutiny we saw," she explained.

The general strike and protests ended in February when President Conte agreed to name Lansana Kouyate as prime minister and to give the position expanded powers.

Guinea analyst Gilles Yabi with International Crisis Group says that while the soldiers' demonstrations are not directly connected to general strikes earlier this year, both resulted from poverty, deteriorating services and perceived corruption.

"This is a problem within the Guinean military, it is not new," he said. "The soldiers have been complaining for years about their conditions, about the housing, about their living conditions. But in fact it was just a symbol of the dereliction of the Guinean state itself."

President Conte has already named replacements for those discharged Saturday.

Yabi says the military protest has been powerful in shaking up the country.

"It is clear that we have a country with a lot of poverty and these economic difficulties by the soldiers, but contrary to the civilians they have a way of protesting by shooting into the air and threatening the stability of the country," he added.

The government says it has begun efforts to meet soldiers' demands for back pay and promotions. The military has helped keep Mr. Conte, in his seventies and in poor health, in power since he seized leadership in a 1984 coup.