Guinea coup leader bars foreign travel for government officials

Members of Guinea's armed forces celebrate after the arrest of Guinea's president, Alpha Conde, in a coup d'etat in Conakry on September 5, 2021. (CELLOU BINANI / AFP)

CONAKRY – Guinean government officials are barred from leaving the country until further notice and a curfew imposed in mining areas has been lifted, the leader of an army unit which ousted President Alpha Conde said on Monday.

Colonel Mamady Doumbouya – a former French legionnaire officer – said at a gathering of Conde's ministers, including the prime minister and top government officials, that they should also hand back their official vehicles.

"There will be no witch hunt," he said a day after the coup which drew international condemnation and threats of sanctions.

The takeover in the West African nation that holds the world's largest bauxite reserves, an ore used to produce aluminium, sent prices of the metal skyrocketing to a 10-year high on Monday over fears of further supply disruption in the downstream market. There was no indication of such disruption yet.

The special forces unit led by former French foreign legionnaire officer, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, said on state television on Sunday that "poverty and endemic corruption" had driven his forces to remove President Alpha Conde from office

Light traffic resumed, and some shops reopened around the main administrative district of Kaloum in Conakry which witnessed heavy gunfire throughout Sunday as the special forces battled soldiers loyal to Conde. A military spokesman said on television that land air borders had also been reopened.

However, uncertainty remains. While the elite unit appeared to have Conde in detention, telling the West African nation on state television that they had dissolved the government and constitution, other branches of the army are yet to publicly comment.

The special forces unit is led by former French foreign legionnaire officer, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, who said on state television on Sunday that "poverty and endemic corruption" had driven his forces to remove Conde from office.

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The apparent coup has been met by condemnation from some of Guinea's strongest allies. The United Nations quickly denounced the takeover, and both the African Union and West Africa's regional bloc have threatened sanctions

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he strongly condemned "any takeover of the government by force" and called for Conde's immediate release.

The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened to impose sanctions after what its chairman, Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo, called an attempted coup.

The African Union said it would meet urgently and take "appropriate measures" while the foreign ministry in Nigeria, the region's dominant power, called for a return to constitutional order.

In an overnight statement, the US State Department condemned the events in Conakry and said that violence and extra-constitutional measures could erode Guinea's prospects for stability and prosperity.

"These actions could limit the ability of the United States and Guinea's other international partners to support the country," the statement reads.

Taxes and protests

Conde won a third term in October after changing the constitution to allow him to stand again, triggering violent protests from the opposition.

In recent weeks the government has sharply increased taxes to replenish state coffers and raised the price of fuel by 20 percent.

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The United Nations quickly denounced the takeover, and both the African Union and West Africa's regional bloc have threatened sanctions

Gunfire erupted near the presidential palace in the capital, Conakry, on Sunday morning. Hours later, videos shared on social media, which Reuters could not immediately authenticate, showed Conde in a room surrounded by army special forces.

Military sources said the president was taken to an undisclosed location and that the forces commanded by Doumbouya – whom one of the sources, a close colleague, described as calm and reserved by nature – had made several other arrests.

They included senior government officials, the sources said.

The junta that appeared to have seized power later said that Conde was not harmed, his wellbeing was guaranteed and he was being given access to his doctors.

Videos shared on social media had earlier shown military vehicles patrolling Conakry, and one military source said the only bridge connecting the mainland to the Kaloum neighbourhood, where the palace and most government ministries are located, had been sealed off.

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By mid-afternoon, when the shooting had stopped, residents were venturing back onto the streets of the capital to celebrate the uprising's apparent success.

A Reuters witness saw pick-up trucks and military vehicles accompanied by motorcyclists honking their horns and cheering onlookers. "Guinea is free! Bravo," a woman shouted from her balcony.

Guinea has seen sustained economic growth during Conde's decade in power thanks to its bauxite, iron ore, gold and diamond wealth.