September 29, 2009 / 3:51 PM / 8 years ago

France cuts Guinea military aid, clash toll jumps

<p>People carry placards during a protest in Conakry in this frame grab taken from September 28, 2009 footage. REUTERS/Reuters TV</p>

CONAKRY (Reuters) - France led international pressure on Guinea’s military rulers by cutting military cooperation on Tuesday after a crackdown by the security forces on its opponents killed 157, according to a local rights group.

Condemnation of Guinea’s junta intensified, with France also joining the African Union in mulling sanctions after security forces on Monday shot at tens of thousands of protesters urging military ruler Captain Moussa Dadis Camara to step down.

Monday’s violence was the worst since Camara seized control of the world’s top bauxite exporter in a December 2008 coup. But the junta leader said he was not responsible for the deaths and would still hold meetings to decide on whether to stand in a presidential election due in early 2010.

“France has decided to immediately suspend military cooperation with Guinea. It is also reviewing its entire bilateral aid,” French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner said.

“At our request, the European Union will meet tomorrow in Brussels to examine additional measures, particularly against individuals, that could be taken swiftly,” he said, adding that Paris, Guinea’s former colonial ruler, was also talking to the African Union and the United Nations Security Council about the situation.

Earlier on Tuesday, an overnight death toll doubled.

“According to hospital sources that we have spoken to, 157 dead and 1,253 injured have been registered,” said Thierno Maadjou Sow, president of the Guinean Human Rights Organisation.

Sow told Reuters the figure did not include the bodies of those demonstrators killed at the September 28 stadium but which had not been delivered to hospitals.

The clashes follow months on wrangling between Camara and his opponents, who are backed by donors and regional bodies in insisting he should not stand in a January presidential poll.

Camara has not made any official declaration but diplomats say he has told them in private he will be a candidate.

The African Union on Tuesday also called on Camara to confirm he would honour his pledge not to stand in the election and so allow transition back to civilian rule.

FINISHING PEOPLE OFF

However, Camara rejected responsibility for the deaths.

“This clash did not take place because of me,” he told French state broadcaster RFI, adding that he would soon convene a meeting with leaders in Guinea to decide on his candidacy.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has condemned the killings, which eyewitnesses said were unprovoked, indiscriminate and involved sexual abuse.

“Soldiers were firing at people and those who tried to get out (of the stadium) were caught and finished off with bayonets,” said Guinean human rights activist Souleymane Bah.

“I saw soldiers strip women naked, spread their legs and stamp on their privates with their boots,” he added.

Camara seized power after President Lansana Conte died in December 2008. He enjoyed initial support from a population hungry for change after decades of Conte’s rule left the mineral-rich nation in disarray.

However, increasingly erratic behaviour, including crackdowns on former backers in the military, attacks on mining companies the country is so dependent on and the likelihood he will stand for election, have fuelled instability.

Analysts agreed criticism was unilateral but question the impact it will have on those running the mineral-rich nation.

“We have yet to see what tangible measures will be adopted as a clarion call to Guinea’s leadership that such an overt abuse of human rights and disproportionate use of force will not be tolerated,” said IHS Global Insight analyst Kissy Agyeman.

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