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Guinea Unions Back Down From Strike

Union leaders in Guinea have backed down from the threat of a general strike, after reaching an agreement with the government and long-standing President Lansana Conte over applying previous accords. The threat of the strike was brought about by a recent presidential decree firing the country's communications minister. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from the capital Conakry.

Guinea's planned strike action was rescinded early Thursday just as it was about to begin.

One of the main union leaders, Rabiatou Serah Diallo, explained two committees will be set up to evaluate and follow progress of previous strike-ending deals.

She also gave a deadline of March 31 for progress to be accomplished.

President Conte has repeatedly broken a previous accord giving the current prime minister, Lansana Kouyate, broad powers.

Mr. Kouyate was named prime minister after deadly union-led protests last year for better governance.

President Conte recently fired the communications minister, something only the consensus prime minister should have been allowed to do.

The firing followed a battle of communiqu├ęs marking the new year - the first, a presidential address on the internet which said the government was performing poorly; the second, the communications minister saying whoever wrote the president's message was out of touch with reality.

Another union official, Mamadou Tanou Balde, says the strike was suspended in consideration of Muslim pilgrims returning from Mecca, and for young people who are passionate about soccer.

Guinea will play the opening match against host Ghana during the upcoming African Cup of Nations.

A presidential aide, a representative of business leaders, as well as lawmakers from both the ruling party and opposition, all hailed the decision to avert the strike as being a step forward, away from possible violence toward constructive dialogue.

But earlier in the day, union leaders from the interior of Guinea, reacted angrily as it appeared the strike action would be rescinded.

Abdoul Gadiry Fofana said the unions would be better positioned to negotiate in a position of strength, with people power, during a general strike.

President Conte recently issued another decree giving powers of the prime minister to a presidential secretary. He has also refused to relinquish control over key economic interests, such as the central bank.

While the unions negotiated Wednesday, on the streets of Conakry, many residents said that they wanted, in their words, "total change", but were afraid of reliving last year's violence, in which nearly 200 people were killed, most of them shot dead by soldiers.

Mr. Conte has ruled resource-rich Guinea since a military coup in 1984, despite a crumbling infrastructure and his own poor health.