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Conakry - At least one person was killed and six others wounded on Monday when Guinea's security forces opened fire in the capital, a human rights group said, warning of a deepening ethnic conflict stemming from rows over forthcoming legislative elections.
The gunfire broke out shortly after Guinea's main opposition leaders boycotted a meeting called by President Alpha Conde aimed at ending days of unrest that has spread beyond the capital and now killed at least six people.
Hundreds of protesters have been wounded since the unrest began on Wednesday. Guinea's notoriously ill-disciplined security forces have a history of brutal crackdowns on protests.
“Seven people were hit by bullets fired by the security forces,” Thierno Maadjou Sow, head of Guinea's main human rights watchdog, OGDH, told Reuters.
“One of them, Mamadou Aliou Bah, died from his wounds,” he added. “It has become an ethnic battle between the Malinke and the Peul. Wherever one group is in the minority, they are attacked by the other.”
Government spokesperson Damantang Albert Camara said the situation was “worrying” but would not give a toll for Monday's clashes.
Behind Guinea's political feuding there is a rivalry between the Malinke and the Peul, Guinea's two largest ethnic groups. The Malinke broadly support the government while the opposition draws heavily from the Peul.
Conde wants to discuss preparations for a long-delayed election that is meant to complete a transition to civilian rule after a 2008 military coup. He missed a deadline on Sunday for a presidential decree to officially call the election for May 12.
Preparations for the vote, which is essential to unlock hundreds of millions of dollars in European aid to the world's largest bauxite supplier, are being hampered by opposition claims that the government is seeking to rig the outcome.
A reduced opposition delegation, led by spokesperson Aboubacar Sylla and former prime minister Jean-Marie Dore, went to the talks on Monday with Conde, who narrowly won a 2010 election.
“We put forward our demands and argued that today our country has need of peace and development,” Sylla said after the meeting. The opposition reiterated its call to replace South African firm Waymark which manages the electoral roll, he said.
A source who took part in the talks, and asked not to be named, said the brief meeting was concluded after statements from both sides and did not involve negotiation.
“This was simply a preliminary meeting to set a framework for dialogue,” Camara, the government spokesperson, said.
Earlier on Monday, the violent protests had spread to Labe, a fiefdom of opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo, in central Guinea, about 450km from the coastal capital.
“We are showing our support for our dead and injured brothers in Conakry,” said Yimbering Diallo, a Labe resident. “We demand free and fair elections.” - Reuters