CONAKRY, 11 Feb 2007 (IRIN) - Mobs burned police stations, looted warehouses and attacked the homes of government ministers in Guinea on Saturday to protest President Lansana Conte's choice of prime minister.
At least four people were confirmed dead and scores injured during riots in the capital, Conakry, and several other towns around the country.
The violence is the latest sign of deepening discontent over the rule of autocratic President Lansana Conte, who has ruled the resource-rich but revenue-poor country for the past 23 years.
Conte, who refused to step down in the face of a crippling 18-day strike last month, announced late on Friday that he would appoint his chief of staff, Eugene Camara, as premier.
Demonstrators say Camara is too close an ally to the president and is not the independent candidate Conte promised when he negotiated an end to last month's strike. Security forces shot at least 59 people dead during those protests.
Some of the worst violence on Saturday happened when stone-throwing rioters attacked a convoy they believed to be carrying Conte. His presidential guard fired into the crowd, killing three and wounding at least 20 others, according to an IRIN correspondent who witnessed the shooting.
Residents in Conakry's sprawling suburbs also reported extensive looting of shops and rice warehouses. Mobs of stone-throwing youths smashed windows, threw garbage into the streets and set up roadblocks with burning tyres before clashing with armed police.
Protesters also looted private residences belonging to Guinean government ministers in Conakry and Segre in the remote northeast. A mansion in Conakry that belongs to Guinea-Bissau's President Joao Bernardo "Nino" Vieira, a close ally of President Conte, was also looted, IRIN correspondents reported.
Rioters also burned houses and offices belonging to local officials in Nzerekore, 1,000km southeast of Conakry, and in Labe in the centre of the country.
Two police stations and two petrol stations in Conakry were burned during Saturday's violence.
Clashes between civilians and police were also reported in Kankan, 500km
east of Conakry, and unconfirmed reports said at least one Guinean soldier was burned alive. Protesters also attacked the city jail and released prisoners.
Clashes were also reported by residents in Kissidougou in the Forest Region, Faranah, 300km east of Conakry, and Kindia, 100km north.
On Friday, before Conte's announcement, clashes between anti-government protestors and police were also reported in Koyah in the west and Duinguiraye, 400km north of Conakry.
On Sunday a tense calm had returned to the capital but new demonstrations were reported in Kankan.
Union leader Ibrahima Fofana of the Guinean Workers Union (CSTG), one of the unions behind last month's strike, told IRIN the union was calling for a new strike starting on Monday, although the weekend's violence had already ground most of the country to a halt as people sheltered at home from the violence.
But Bama Maddou, spokesman for a coalition of 14 opposition political parties, said it is too late to talk about a strike.
"This is not a strike," he said. "This is an insurrection against Conte. The people are demanding his resignation."
Communications infrastructure is poor in Guinea and hospitals are so under-stocked and expensive that most people prefer to treat wounded and dead at home.
The United Nations last week appealed for US.7 million in emergency aid to stock hospitals with blood, trauma kits and oxygen to prepare for what diplomats and aid workers in Conakry expect to be an unpredictable and unstable period in Guinea.
photo credit: Maseco Conde/IRIN