CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — A Guinean army colonel seized control of state television Sunday and declared that President Alpha Conde’s government had been dissolved in the West African nation, an announcement that came after hours of heavy gunfire near the presidential palace.
The dramatic developments Sunday bore all the hallmarks of a West African coup d’etat. After seizing the airwaves, the mutinous soldiers vowed to restore democracy, closed the country’s borders and gave themselves a name: The National Committee of Gathering and Development.
However, the Defence Ministry put out a statement of its own Sunday, saying that the attack on the presidential palace in the capital of Conakry had been repelled.
Col. Mamadi Doumbouya sat, draped in a Guinean flag with a half dozen other soldiers in uniform alongside him, as he read a statement Sunday on the uprising on state television, vowing: “The duty of a soldier is to save the country.”
He made no mention of Conde’s whereabouts and it was not immediately known where the 83-year-old leader was after Sunday’s attack. Photos and video showing Conde in the custody of soldiers circulated widely on social media though their authenticity could not immediately be corroborated.
Conde, in power for more than a decade, had seen his popularity plummet since he sought a third term last year, saying that term limits did not apply to him.
“We will no longer entrust politics to one man; we will entrust it to the people,” Doumbouya said, adding that the constitution would also be dissolved and the country’s borders would be closed for one week.
Doumbouya, who has headed a special forces unit in the military, said he was acting in the best interests of the nation, since he said not enough economic progress has been made since the country became independent from France in 1958.
“If you see the state of our roads, if you see the state of our hospitals, you realize that after 72 years, it’s time to wake up,” he said. “We have to wake up.”
Heavy gunfire had erupted early Sunday near the presidential palace and went on for hours, sparking fears in a nation that already has seen multiple coups and presidential assassination attempts. The Defense Ministry claimed that the attack had been stopped but uncertainty grew when there was no subsequent sign of Conde on state television or radio.
It was not immediately known how broad Doumbouya’s support was within the military’s ranks. In Sunday’s speech, he called on other soldiers “to put themselves on the side of the people” and stay in their barracks.
The president’s reelection in October had prompted violent street demonstrations in which the opposition said dozens were killed. Sunday’s developments underscored how he had also become vulnerable to dissenting elements within his military.
Conde came to power in 2010 in the country’s first democratic election since independence from France. Many saw his presidency as a fresh start for the country, which has been mired by decades of corrupt, authoritarian rule.
Opponents, though, say he has failed to improve the lives of Guineans, most of whom live in poverty despite the country’s vast mineral riches, which include bauxite and gold.
Guinea has had a long history of political instability since independence. 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 2009.
A second coup soon followed, leaving army Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara in charge. He later went into exile after surviving an assassination attempt, and a transitional government later organized the landmark 2010 election won by Conde.
The following year, Conde narrowly survived an assassination attempt after gunmen surrounded his home overnight and pounded his bedroom with rockets. Rocket-propelled grenades also landed inside the compound and one of his bodyguards was killed.