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Guinean soldiers said they had overthrown president Alpha Condé in an apparent military coup, less than a year after he won a controversial third term in the mineral-rich west African country.
A group of armed men appeared on state television on Sunday dressed in fatigues and draped in national flags, declaring that Guineans were being mistreated by the country’s elites.
“We are capable of taking our destiny in our own hands,” one of the soldiers said in the state TV broadcast, adding that the constitution would be dissolved and the borders closed for one week.
But Guinea’s defence ministry said in a statement that security forces had stopped the attempted coup after heavy gunfire erupted near the presidential palace in Conakry. “The presidential guard, supported by the loyalist and republican defence and security forces, contained the threat and repelled the group of assailants,” it said.
But unauthenticated videos of Condé surrounded by armed soldiers circulated on social media.
It was unclear who was behind the coup attempt but Reuters quoted unnamed sources as saying an elite army unit led by Mamady Doumbouya, a former French legionnaire, was responsible.
Guinea has a history of coups and attempted coups. In 2011, less than a year after Conde was first elected, he survived an assassination attempt in which his residence was attacked by rocket-propelled grenades.
Condé spent years in exile in France organising against Guinea’s first postcolonial leader — the dictator Ahmed Sekou Toure — before becoming the first democratically elected leader of the country of 13m people in 2010.
But his decision to change the constitution and run for a third term led to protests in the world’s biggest bauxite exporter that were met with a violent state crackdown.
Guinea has some of the world’s highest-grade iron ore, including the giant Simandou deposit that has been the subject of a protracted legal battle.
That culminated in a landmark international corruption trial in which Israeli-French billionaire Beny Steinmetz was sentenced to five years in jail for bribing the wife of Guinea’s late dictator Lansana Conté.
Guinea generates most of its revenues from mining exports, and its economy has grown at more than 6 per cent annually for the past five years, after suffering a dramatic shock following the west African Ebola outbreak in which more than 2,500 Guineas died.
But its vast mineral deposits have generated allegations of large-scale corruption, and the country remains largely impoverished.
The coup attempt comes as democracy has retreated across west and central Africa. Mali has experienced two military coups in the past year, while Chad strongman leader Idriss Déby was killed in April by rebels and swiftly replaced by his son. In Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara won his own third term last year after changing the constitution, while leaders in Benin and Congo-Brazzaville have recently won elections in which there were virtually no opposition candidates.
“We can’t assume these soldiers will hand over power quickly,” Judd Devermont, director of the Africa programme at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies, wrote on Twitter. “In fact, they may see that brethren in #Mali and #Chad have been able to continue to rule with minimal international sanction.”
António Guterres, UN secretary-general, tweeted: “I strongly condemn any takeover of the government by force of the gun and call for the immediate release of President Alpha Condé.”