Guinea: city shaken by deadly violence following the referendum

Several people have been killed in recent days in Nzérékoré, a town in southern Guinea that has been plagued by residents in community unrest since the disputed referendum on Sunday.

The human toll varies greatly depending on sources, and the governor speaks of three dead, a doctor and a local opposition official reporting 15 dead, on condition of anonymity.

These figures cannot be verified immediately from independent sources.

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One of the country’s largest cities in neighboring Liberia, Nzérékoré, has been in the throes of clashes since a nationwide referendum on the power for a new constitution was held on Sunday.

Residents contacted by correspondents reported conflicts between religious and ethnic communities, attacks and reprisals against churches and mosques.

A curfew was introduced Tuesday morning, according to Governor Mohamed Ismaël Traoré reached by phone.

After months of tensions that had already claimed the lives of at least 32 civilians and a gendarme, President Alpha Condé and his government decided to hold the referendum on Sunday, ignoring opposition protests, international disapproval and suspicions of the regularity of electoral lists.

At least 14 people have been killed for voting violence across the country, according to the opposition. Authorities talk about six deaths, two of which were due to an “accident” and a health problem.

“Unrecognizable” corpses

The unrest in Nzérékoré risks increasing tolls.

Already on Sunday a Protestant church was burning down there. A man was also killed when unidentified people opened fire at an polling station, authorities say.

Residents and civil servants have since reported a series of abuses from armed gangs to people, places of worship, homes.

“They burned our church and all the houses in Guerzé (local and indigenous ethnicity, mostly Christian or animist),” says a resident of Belle-Vue district.

“We killed three people in my family who are innocent. Can you imagine? Manage the churches! “.

The violence continued until an uncertain calm returned on Tuesday. One doctor talked about anonymity to protect himself from reprisals and said he counted 15 bodies in the hospital, some “unrecognizable”. A local chief executive of the collective who has led the protest against the government for months has also made progress on this figure.

The battle of numbers

“It is wrong that there are not 15 bodies, there are only three in the morning,” said the governor.

Guinea, a poor country despite large natural resources, has been a site of mobilization since October, often characterized by violence, against the project lent to President Alpha Condé, 82, to try to stay in power.

According to the opposition, the new constitution presented to the referendum is a ploy to seek a third term at the end of 2020.

The consequences of the violence systematically give rise to contradictory versions that are difficult to verify. In this context, the issue of social unity is particularly sensitive. But human rights defenders condemn excessive security forces are a constant.

Mr Condé, a former historic opponent who became the first democratically elected president, said it was about giving his country a “modern” constitution that would ban female circumcision, for example. He maintains ambiguity about his personal ambitions.

The vote was held in the shadow of the pandemic in the new coronavirus that is catching international attention. He stopped speaking on Tuesday.

Secretary-General Antonio Guterres “regrets” the violence and urges “to urge all parties to exercise the utmost restraint” and to resume dialogue. He urges security forces to comply with international standards for the use of force, said spokesman Stéphane Dujarric.

“The non-inclusive and non-consensual nature of the electoral register, as well as the role played by parts of the security and defense forces in addition to merely securing the process, made it impossible to hold credible elections,” a responded the French Foreign Ministry. He noted that the vote had taken place without international observers.

Two days after the boycott of the opposition vote, the government still gave no indication of participation or announcement of results.

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