- Guinea's army chief, General Kerfala Camara, on Tuesday declared a partial lifting of the 20-hour-a-day curfew. But violence still persists in the West African country where it is estimated that over 80 people were killed by armed police during the strikes. Meanwhile, there are concerns the Guinean crisis could dramatically spiral into a wave of regional violence.
According to the new orders by the Guinean army, people are allowed to go out for their normal business between noon and 18:00 hours. However, the capital today Conakry remained a ghost city, with all businesses at standstill due to the continued strike and fears over police violence.
The curfew was enforced by a martial law decreed by President Lansana Conté on Monday. It however provoked more protests by Guinean youths. Four people were reported shot dead in the country's second biggest city, Labé, the capital of the Fouta Jalon region.
The martial law outlawed all public meetings and gives powers to the military to arrest anyone suspected of "threatening state security" - seen as an ample definition.
General Camara, who read out the curfew amendment on state-owned media, said the military still had the right to search vehicles and homes and even use force where people resisted.
He has ordered all armed forces and paramilitary troops to make sure that the curfew orders are observed in the whole country.
The imposition of a curfew, which was precipitated by a general strike, calling for the resignation of the Guinean President, has made life difficult for most Guinean families, for they could not go out to buy food.
Union leaders said the appointment of Eugene Camara by the President was yet another provocation and betrayal by Mr Conté. They therefore asked people to take to the streets and protest for the resignation of President Conté.
Though the martial law is in place, demonstrators - who still remain adamant that Mr Conté must go - burnt a lot of houses, including those of governors and ministers.
The homes of a former rebel financier of Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy (LURD) in Guinea, Aicha Conneh, were reduced to ashes by strikers. Ms Conneh - the ex-wife of LURD leader Sakuo Damate Conneh and spiritual daughter of the Guinean President - was accused of meddling into Guinea's internal affair by recruiting former Liberian fighters to provide security for President Conté.
Mr Conté, 70, has been bombarded with protest letters from all corners of the world for not respecting the lives of Guineans as well as failed to stick to the agreement he had signed with trade union leaders.
The West African Editors' Forum (WAEF) has dispatched a statement today, warning President Conté against attempts to silence or intimidate journalists, particularly those working for the independent media.
"We demand the immediate liberation of the arrested journalists and the strict respect of freedom of expression," declared Cheriff Sy, WAEF's Media Strategist and Development Commissioner. Mr Sy, himself an editor in Burkina Faso, has appealed to human rights and press freedom organisations to intensify pressures on the Guinean government to restore freedom of press in the country.
The Brussels-based think tank, International Crisis Group, today also issued a statement, urging the international community to help restoring peace as well as ensure radical change in Guinea to avoid blood bath from spreading to its neighbours.
"The choice of Camara was a tragic mistake that was received in the country as a provocation", says Crisis Group analyst Gilles Yabi. "It was promptly followed first by riots, and then renewed violent repression," he recalled.
The group believes that the Guinean crisis could dramatically spiral to a full blown chaos, which can stimulate a military take-over and a blood bath, leading to a possible civil war comparable to those that have torn apart its neighbours in the past decade and with uncontrollable consequences.
"Chaos in Guinea's forest region, bordering Liberia, Sierra Leone and Côte d'Ivoire, could well destabilise its frail neighbours. Likewise, politically unstable Guinea-Bissau could suffer if its President, Joâo Bernardo Vieira, seeks to support his long-time friend, Conté," Mr Yabi said, calling for the intervention of President John Kufuor of Ghana, France and the US to prevent a military coup.
"The January revolt has created an opportunity for genuine change after 49 years of misery in Guinea", says Carolyn Norris of the Crisis Group. "The challenge now is to make that a positive change and not repeat the mistakes of the past," she concludes.
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