The putschists have ordered soldiers from the former President Alpha Conde’s guard to join their forces, barred government officials from leaving the country, and replaced regional governors.

Lieutenant Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, head of the Army’s special forces and coup leader, waves to the crowd as he arrives at the Palace of the People in Conakry on September 6, 2021.
Lieutenant Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, head of the Army’s special forces and coup leader, waves to the crowd as he arrives at the Palace of the People in Conakry on September 6, 2021. (Cellou Binani / AFP)

Guinea’s new military leaders have sought to tighten their grip on power after overthrowing President Alpha Conde, ordering the soldiers from his presidential guard to join the junta forces and barring government officials from leaving the country.

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After putting the West African nation back under military rule for the first time in over a decade, the junta already had dissolved the National Assembly and the country’s constitution.

On Monday, regional military commanders replaced Guinea’s governors.

Junta leader Col. Mamadi Doumbouya said the military regime would not pursue vendettas against political enemies, though he also told officials from Conde’s deposed government to turn over their passports.

“There will be no spirit of hatred or revenge. There will be no witch hunt,” said Doumbouya, who had led the Guinean army’s special forces unit before seizing power Sunday. “But justice will be the compass that will guide every Guinean citizen.”

“For former members of the government, travel outside our borders will not be allowed during the transition,” he said during the brief speech. “All your travel documents and vehicles must be handed over to the general secretaries of your former departments.”

Fears of countercoup

The military junta has refused to issue a timeline for releasing Conde, saying the 83-year-old deposed leader still had access to medical care and his doctors. The West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS, though, called for his immediate release and threatened to impose sanctions if the demand was not met.

Conde’s removal by force Sunday came after the president sought and won a controversial third term in office last year, saying the term limits did not apply to him. While the political opposition and the junta both sought his ouster, it remained unclear Monday how united the two would be going forward.

It also was unknown how much support the junta leader had within the larger military. As the commander of the army’s special forces unit, he directed elite soldiers but it was still possible that others who remained loyal to the ousted president could mount a countercoup in the coming hours or days.

Major setback

In announcing the coup on state television, Doumbouya cast himself as a patriot of Guinea, which he said had failed to progress economically since gaining independence from France decades earlier. Observers, though, say the tensions between Guinea’s president and the army colonel stem from a recent proposal to cut some military salaries.

“We will no longer entrust politics to one man. We will entrust it to the people,” he said, draped in a Guinean flag with about a half dozen other soldiers flanked at his side.

Sunday’s coup was a dramatic setback for Guinea, where many had hoped the country had turned the page on military power grabs.

Conde’s 2010 election victory — the country’s first democratic vote ever — was supposed to be a fresh start after decades of corrupt, authoritarian rule and political turmoil. In the years since, though, opponents said Conde, too, failed to improve the lives of Guineans, most of whom live in poverty despite the country’s vast mineral riches of bauxite and gold.

The year after Conde’s first election he narrowly survived an assassination attempt when gunmen surrounded his home overnight and pounded his bedroom with rockets. Rocket-propelled grenades landed inside the compound and one of his bodyguards was killed.

Violent street demonstrations broke out last year after Conde organized a referendum to modify the constitution. The unrest intensified after he won the October election, and the opposition said dozens were killed during the crisis.

In neighboring Senegal, which has a large diaspora of Guineans who opposed Conde, news of his political demise was met with relief.

“President Alpha Conde deserves to be deposed. He stubbornly tried to run for a third term when he had no right to do so,” said Malick Diallo, a young Guinean shopkeeper in the suburbs of Dakar.

“We know that a coup d’etat is not good,” said Mamadou Saliou Diallo, another Guinean living in Senegal. “A president must be elected by democratic vote. But we have no choice. We have a president who is too old, who no longer makes Guineans dream and who does not want to leave power.”

“Government of national union”

Doumbouya also promised investors on Monday that business deals would not be affected by the political situation and vowed to form a “government of national union” to oversee a political transition.

Doumbouya, with an eye to the mining industry that is the backbone of the economy, said “activities in the country are continuing as normal.”
Guinea will “uphold all its undertakings (and) mining agreements,” he promised, stressing “its commitment to give favourable treatment to foreign investment in the country.”

He also said, “a consultation” would be launched that would “set down the broad parameters” of political transition.

“A government of national union will be established to steer the transition,” he said, but gave no details about how long the consultation or the handover would last.

History of political instability

Guinea has had a long history of political instability. In 1984, Lansana Conte took control of the country after the first post-independence leader died. He remained in power for a quarter-century until his death in 2008 and was accused of siphoning off state coffers to enrich his family and friends.

The country’s second coup soon followed, putting army Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara in charge. During his rule, security forces opened fire on demonstrators at a stadium in Conakry who were protesting his plans to run for president.

Human rights groups have said more than 150 people were killed and at least 100 women were raped. Camara later went into exile after surviving an assassination attempt, and a transitional government organized the landmark 2010 election won by Conde.