Two shot dead as Guinea capital crippled by general strikeMon, 26 Feb 2024 18:32:05 GMT

Two youths were shot dead Monday as Guinea’s capital was paralysed on the first day of an open-ended general strike, a key test for the junta that seized power in 2021 and banned demonstrations while muzzling critics.A confederation of the main unions has urged public and private sectors to strike for the release of a prominent media activist, lower food prices and an end to media censorship.Schools, shops, markets and roads were empty early Monday in Conakry and hospitals only offered skeletal services as youths set up barricades on arterial thoroughfares.Sporadic clashes broke out in some outskirts and two young men were shot dead.”They killed our son, they targeted him and shot him in the neck,” Adama Keita, a relative of an 18-year-old who was caught up in clashes with security forces, told AFP.This was confirmed by a witness and a police source, speaking on condition of anonymity. “I saw the motionless body of this teenager, I had tears in my eyes, and I immediately left the scene so as not to be associated with this type of crime,” the police source told AFP.Another young man died elsewhere in similar circumstances, a doctor at the hospital where he died told AFP.The news site contacted the second victim’s father who confirmed the information.”Around 12:00 pm (the security forces) called me when I was at the construction site to tell me that they had shot my child,” the website quoted him as saying.”When I got home, my younger brother called me back to say that he had died,” he said. “When Mamady Doumbouya took power, he said that justice would be the compass that would guide all Guineans. Today, he is doing worse” than all the other autocratic rulers Guinea has had since independence from France, he added, referring to the junta leader.Even government officials backed the protest.”This strike is welcome, it will force the authorities to understand that they are not gods on earth,” a ministry official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said.”I’m on strike because Guineans are sick of the artificially created suffering, maintained by our leaders.” The strike comes a week after the military junta unexpectedly dissolved the transitional government — which had been in office since July 2022 — without providing a reason.The junta also ordered government members’ passports to be seized and their bank accounts frozen.Police kept a low-profile presence in the seaside capital on Monday.- Press censorship -Journalists have been at the forefront of protests against media censorship.Television channels have been removed and radio frequencies disrupted in a crackdown on media outlets. The unions have called for the immediate and unconditional release of Sekou Jamal Pendessa, secretary general of the Union of Press Professionals of Guinea (SPPG), who was arrested at the end of January for “participating in an unauthorised protest”.Pendessa was sentenced Friday for six months in prison, three of which were suspended. Internet restrictions imposed three months ago were lifted last week, a day after the unions announced plans for the strike.The resumption of internet access surprised many in Guinea and sparked a flurry of social media comments.- Rare protests -Protests have become rare under junta leader General Mamady Doumbouya, who took power in a September 2021 coup. General Doumbouya has not spoken publicly since the start of the year, despite a deadly explosion at the country’s main oil depot in December paralysing Guinea for several weeks.The military leaders banned all demonstrations in 2022 and have arrested a number of opposition leaders, civil society members and the press.Mineral-rich Guinea has endured decades of dictatorial rule after independence from France in 1968. Fierce repression of union strikes in 2007 under former president Lansana Conte left 186 dead, according to NGOs. Under international pressure, the junta has promised to hand the reins of government back to elected civilians by the end of 2024, but the opposition has accused it of authoritarian drift.