CONAKRY (Reuters) - Guinea security forces used guns, tear gas and truncheons on Thursday to scatter protesters angered by the government’s handling of upcoming parliamentary elections, witnesses said.
Tensions have been rising in the West African state between the administration of President Alpha Conde and the opposition, which has accused him of attempting to consolidate power by pre-rigging the polls in his favour.
Wrangling over how to organize the vote has caused the date of the poll, initially meant to come on the heels of Conde’s election in late 2010, to backslide repeatedly.
“The CENI (independent national electoral commission) is corrupt,” said Kerfalla Sylla, one of the protesters in the capital Conakry.
Others at the demonstration in the Bambeto neighbourhood of Conakry shouted “Alpha Zero” and “Down with CENI”.
Witnesses said more than two thousand people had joined the protest - the first of several planned by the opposition - before police charged it, and that at least two people were injured with live rounds.
“I was running and I saw an old man struggling with a soldier who was holding a weapon to him. I wanted to fight the soldier and he shot me, the bullet hit me in the foot,” Mamadou Aliou Diallo, one of the protesters, told Reuters.
Another protester said he saw a man shot in the back during the clashes, in which some demonstrators lobbed chunks of concrete at the police.
A government spokesman said that the demonstration had been authorized, but that police were forced to intervene after the protesters became unruly. He gave no details on injuries.
“These were demonstrators who tried to leave the planned route, and caused the reaction of the security forces,” said spokesman Julius Diale Dore by telephone.
Conde last month scrapped a July 8 election date to give officials more time to fix problems in the voter registration system, a move welcomed by opposition parties.
But opposition figures have also demanded that electoral body officials resign and be replaced over concerns that they are biased in Conde’s favour.
The standoff has heightened tensions in the coup-plagued nation and rekindled divisions between the country’s two most populous ethnicities, the Malinke and the Peul.
Conde, a Malinke, narrowly defeated Peul candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo in the 2010 polls.
The European Union, which cut off aid programs in Guinea after a 2008 coup, has said it will only resume full cooperation in the country after the parliamentary polls.
Guinea is the world’s top supplier of the aluminum ore bauxite and its iron ore riches have drawn billions of dollars in planned new investments from companies like Rio Tinto and Vale.