Military junta appoints civilian as prime minister as transition toward democracy begins

By Rukmini Callimachi, AP
Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Guinean military appoints civilian prime minister

CONAKRY, Guinea — Guinea’s military junta appointed a veteran opposition leader Tuesday as the country’s new prime minister, a crucial step that sets the stage for the military to cede power to civilians in elections within the next six months.

Jean-Marie Dore is an outspoken critic of junta leader Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara and was brutally beaten by his soldiers when he helped lead a demonstration calling for an end to military rule.

The appointment came as Gen. Sekouba Konate, who persuaded Camara to step aside and accept a transition to civilian rule, returned to Conakry amid extremely tight security.

Konate descended from a private jet and shook hands with members of Guinea’s junta before being whisked away in a convoy of around 30 pickup trucks packed with soldiers.

The general, who is the No. 2 in the West African country’s junta, had spent the past six days in Burkina Faso negotiating the departure of Guinea’s military strongman. At one point, Konate drafted a four-page resignation letter when it appeared that Camara would not step down.

Under intense pressure, Camara agreed to go into exile due to his failing health. He gave the go-ahead to the appointment of a civilian prime minister and the holding within six months of multiparty elections in which no member of the military would be allowed to run.

The elated opposition planned a hero’s welcome for Konate, and thousands of Guineans were expected at the airport. But late Tuesday a government spokesman said only members of the government would be allowed to greet him.

Hundreds of heavily armed soldiers deployed around the airport hours before his arrival, blocking roads, turning back cars and forcing shopkeepers to close amid concerns that soldiers loyal to the exiled coup leader did not back the transition to civilian rule.

Junta loyalists chartered a private plane last week and flew to Burkina Faso, vowing not to return to Guinea without Camara, their 46-year-old chief, who was badly wounded in an assassination attempt. Some of them wept Sunday when Camara, gaunt and weak, read a prepared statement, often losing his place and stumbling over words as he announced that he supported the transition to democracy.

Idrissa Cherif, the information minister for the junta that seized power just over a year ago said Camara and Konate had agreed on the choice of Dore for interim prime minister.

“Dore was selected in close collaboration between the two and in the presence of (Burkina Faso President Blaise) Compaore,” Cherif said earlier on Tuesday.

The two also decided on 30 cabinet members, with representation split evenly between Camara’s junta, the opposition and intellectuals from around Guinea, Cherif said. He said each group was given 10 seats to ensure that every part of the country was represented.

Camara was flown to Burkina Faso after being ejected from Morocco, where he had been undergoing medical treatment following the December assassination attempt. The country had been in limbo as many worried that factions within the army might try to make a bid for power.

Although initially popular when he seized control in a coup on Dec. 23, 2008, Camara quickly lost support when he backed away from a promise to organize elections in which he would not run.

Dore was among the tens of thousands of people who thronged the main soccer stadium in the capital in September to protest against Camara. Members of Camara’s presidential guard shot into the crowd, killing at least 156 people and raping dozens of women.

Opposition leaders were targeted by the presidential guard. Dore, who is in his 70s, had his skull cracked when he was beaten by soldiers loyal to Camara. He keeps at his house a bag with the bloody clothes he was wearing that day.

Associated Press Writer Brahima Ouedraogo in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso contributed to this report.

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