Heavy fire erupted on Saturday in the centre of the Guinean capital Conakry and security forces blocked off the area, witnesses told AFP.
The reason for the sustained weapons fire was unclear in this West African country, led since September 2021 by Colonel Mamady Doumbouya who took power in a coup after 11 years of civilian rule.
“There is gunfire from both automatic and weapons of war in Kaloum,” the political and administrative heart of the seaside city, a witness from the area said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“The city centre has been sealed since dawn, we can neither enter, nor leave,” a shopkeeper added, also speaking on condition of anonymity.
“I wanted to go to the port area where I work but was prevented from leaving (Kaloum), where armoured vehicles have been deployed”.
Several witnesses said the roads were empty and armoured vehicles stationed in several points.
Kaloum is located on a peninsula and houses the presidency and several top government and administrative offices as well as the military headquarters and the main prison.
Several witnesses said the firing took place near the jail and the 8 Novembre bridge — the sole access route to the city centre.
An airport source said no flights had taken off from Conakry’s international airport on Saturday morning as air traffic staff could not get to the airport from Kaloum.
– Dictatorships and coups –
Guinea is among several countries to have seen coups since 2020, along with Mali, Burkina Faso and this year, Niger and Gabon.
The latest spurt of unrest in Conakry comes as Guinea holds the trial of former dictator Moussa Dadis Camara, who is being held in the centre of the capital since hearings began in September last year.
Camara and 10 other former military and government officials are accused over a 2009 massacre carried out by security forces loyal to the then-junta leader.
The killing of 156 people and the rape of at least 109 women started at a political rally in a Conakry stadium on September 28, 2009 and continued in the days that followed, according to a UN-mandated enquiry.
Camara — who himself came to power in a coup in December 2008 — and his co-defendants are charged with murder, sexual violence, torture, abduction and kidnapping.
They face life imprisonment if convicted.
The trial is unprecedented in a country ruled for decades by authoritarian regimes, where people had become used to the impunity of the virtually untouchable security forces, according to the international commission of enquiry into the massacre.
In 1958, Guinea achieved independence from France.
Sekou Toure became Guinea’s first post-independence president; he established a dictatorial regime and ruled until his death in 1984, after which General Lansana Conte staged a coup and seized the government.
He too established an authoritarian regime and manipulated presidential elections until his death in December 2008, when Camara seized power.
In early December 2009, Camara was wounded in an assassination attempt and exiled to Burkina Faso. In 2010 and 2013 respectively, Guinea held its first free and fair presidential elections, which were won by Alpha Conde.