The troops opened fire as thousands of opponents of the military junta led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara gathered in a stadium in Conakry, the capital, to protest his plans to run in presidential elections next January. At first, the troops fired tear gas at the crowd, estimated to have as many as 50,000 people, and then they started shooting, according to witnesses, who described scenes of panic and terror.
Witnesses spoke of seeing numerous wounded and dead demonstrators.
The violence came after months of tension in the impoverished West African nation, brought on by what has been widely described as the erratic behaviour of Captain Camara, the military man who led a coup last December, soon after the death of the longtime leader Lansana Conte. The shooting drew widespread international condemnation, with European Union’s foreign policy chief Javier Solana urging the authorities in Conakry on Tuesday to “exercise maximum restraint and ensure a peaceful and democratic transition,” news reports said.
At first welcomed by citizens weary from decades of authoritarian rule, Captain Camara has since lost support because of the actions of his troops — which human rights groups say include robberies, beatings and rapes — and his own inconsistencies.
Demonstrators held signs reading “Down with the army in power,” according to reports.
“We saw trucks coming into the stadium and the soldiers getting out from them,” said a teacher who was there, Youssouf Koumbassa. “They were firing everywhere.”
Koumbassa said woman demonstrators had been stripped by some of the troops. Experts, noting the increasing lawlessness of the Guinean security forces and a previous propensity for violence, suggested that Monday’s killings were not altogether surprising.