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Guinea President Lansana Conte dies

world Updated: Dec 23, 2008 10:09 IST
Saliou Samb
Saliou Samb
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Guinea's President Lansana Conte, a diabetic, chain-smoking general who ruled the West African bauxite exporter for nearly a quarter of a century, has died after an illness, the government said on Tuesday.

The military's commander Diarra Camara ordered troops to protect strategic locations and the borders of the former French colony, which in the last two years had seen often violent protests against the rule of the reclusive president.

Conte, who was believed to be 74, died at 1800 GMT on Monday in the capital Conakry, government leaders announced on state television in the early hours of Tuesday.

National Assembly President Aboubacar Sompare asked the country's Supreme Court to name him president in line with the constitution.

"I have the heavy and difficult task to inform you with great sadness of the death of General Lansana Conte, President of the Republic of Guinea, after a long illness," Sompare said in the television broadcast.

He was accompanied during the broadcast by Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare, Camara and other officials.

As the television played national music, Sompare declared 40 days of national mourning.

He praised Conte, who liked to cultivate rice at his home in solidarity with Guinea's farmers and sometimes received visitors while puffing a cigar, as "a solid peasant, a brave soldier".

Conakry calm

Although rumours that Conte was seriously ill had been circulating in the dilapidated seaside capital for days, the government chose the early hours of Tuesday, when most people were sleeping, to announce the president's death.

The streets of Conakry were calm.

Conte, who became frail and reclusive in his later years of rule, had since 2002 often travelled abroad for medical treatment in Morocco, Cuba and Switzerland.

He had governed Guinea, the world's number one exporter of bauxite, the ore from which aluminium is made, since 1984 when he seized power after the West African country's first president, Sekou Toure, died in a U.S. hospital.

In recent years, opposition parties had been pressing Conte to relinquish power due to his illness, raising fears of political turmoil should he die in office.

Early last year, a union-led general strike triggered anti-government riots in which more than 180 people were killed, most of them shot by Conte's security forces, according to witnesses and human rights groups.

Units of the army and police staged violent mutinies this year to demand payment of back pay and other benefits.