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For the past two weeks, there has been a general strike in Guinea (West Africa). Thousands of union and grassroots marchers have been protesting throughout the country. Government forces have killed at least 59 people and injured over 250.

This is the third strike in a year marked by rapid inflation and rampant corruption in the country. While most of the country is shut down, those merchants still doing business have doubled the price of staple foods.

President Lansana Conte has been in office since 1984. There have been elections but their validity has been contested.

On Saturday, in a speech calling for calm Conte said:

Those who want power must wait their turn. It is God who gives power and when he gives it to someone, everyone must stand behind him.

On Wednesday, Conte agreed to appoint a new prime minister. However, according to Reuters:

Union leaders have said they will not call an end to their action until ... President Conte [agrees to] hand over all his powers to a prime minister acceptable to the unions.

The BBC has some photos from Monday's protests – including where someone is holding a placard reading (in French) "We are ready to die for change".

The BBC carried this eyewitness account of Monday's violence by Bah Rahim, 32:

The march was huge and I saw the military kill two people right in front of me.

It started when I went outside to join the protesters at nine o'clock.

We were in my suburb of Hamdallaye and as the soldiers began shooting everyone ran to the police station but the shooting continued. It was there at the police station that I was shocked to see two people shot dead.

But this didn't stop the crowd. We moved forward towards the 8 Novembre Bridge - the way into the centre of Conakry. It's a long way, about 10km.

At the crossing there were so many soldiers and they started shooting their guns again, and killed more than seven people.

It was not my first terrifying experience with the military. Last Thursday I saw two young boys - aged about seven or eight - throw a stone at a military vehicle as it passed by.

The soldiers responded with machine-gun fire. The children ran inside and were not hurt, but you can see five bullet holes in the wall near my compound.

From the WaPo (finally reporting on this 2 weeks after it started):

Tensions eased considerably Wednesday after an announcement that Conté had agreed to name a prime minister, a move his critics hope will be a step toward his relinquishing some power.

On Thursday, a commission including government officials, union leaders and representatives of civil groups met to discuss the powers of the prospective prime minister. The panel is supposed to present its proposal to Conté soon.

The true death toll from the violence might never be known. Residents said some bodies were not taken to hospitals but were swiftly buried by family members. Muslim custom in Guinea requires that the dead be buried within 24 hours.

Many residents have accused the government of corruption and misrule, which they blame for leaving much of the country without adequate water, electricity or jobs.

Many also worry that Conté's resignation or death could create a power vacuum, plunging the impoverished country of 10 million into civil war. Conté is in his 70s and reportedly suffering from a heart condition.

A friend of mine, Mardi Kendall, with close ties to Guinea is writing up what she has heard from her friends there, I will add that to this diary when I recieve it [Update: I decided to put it in a separate diary: Hope and Mourning]. One of her friends lost a 12-year-old brother in the violence.

Originally posted to plover on Thu Jan 25, 2007 at 07:09 PM PST.

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