Soldiers who staged an uprising in Guinea’s capital have announced a nationwide curfew “until further notice” and the replacement of regional governors by the military, just hours after they said they had dissolved the constitution and the government.
The Guinean defence ministry said an attack by mutinous special forces on the presidential palace had been repelled, but it was not fully clear by Sunday evening who held power in the West African nation.
Earlier in the day, unverified videos shared on social media appeared to show President Alpha Conde surrounded by soldiers. His whereabouts were unclear.
Military sources said the president was taken to an undisclosed location and that the forces commanded by Doumbouya – who one of the sources, a close colleague, described as calm and reserved by nature – had made several other arrests.
This followed earlier reports of heavy gunfire in Conakry near the presidential palace though it also was unclear who was responsible.
The events drew concern and condemnation from regional and international observers, including United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres, who said he strongly condemned “any takeover of the government by force” and called for Conde’s immediate release.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) threatened to impose sanctions after what its chairman, Ghana’s President Nana Akuffo-Addo, called an attempted coup, while the African Union said it would meet urgently and take “appropriate measures”.
Soldiers claim to take power
After seizing the airwaves, the mutinous soldiers vowed to restore democracy.
“The duty of a soldier is to save the country,” Colonel Mamadi Doumbouya, who sat draped in a Guinean flag with a half dozen other soldiers in uniform alongside him, said as he read out the statement.
“The personalisation of political life is over. We will no longer entrust politics to one man, we will entrust it to the people,” Doumbouya said, adding that the constitution would also be dissolved and borders closed for one week.
Doumbouya, who has headed a special forces unit in the military, said he was acting in the best interests of the nation of more than 12.7 million people. Not enough economic progress has been made since independence from France in 1958, the colonel said.
“If you see the state of our roads, if you see the state of our hospitals, you realise that after 72 years, it’s time to wake up,” he said. “We have to wake up.”
The soldiers also said in a statement read out over national television later on Sunday that they would convene Conde’s cabinet ministers and other top officials at 11:00 GMT on Monday in Conakry.
The defence ministry said the attempted uprising had been put down, however.
“The presidential guard, supported by the loyalist and republican defence and security forces, contained the threat and repelled the group of assailants,” it said in a statement. “Security and combing operations are continuing to restore order and peace.”
Situation remains fluid
Guinean journalist Youssouf Bah told Al Jazeera the situation was very fluid.
“Since the coup plotters’ statements on the national television, the opposition supporters have taken to the streets and thousands of youth are dancing, welcoming them,” he said, speaking from Conakry.
Bah described Doumbouya as a “popular military officer among most of the presidential guard”.
“The city is divided,” he added. “One part is supporting the coup plotters, and the other part has clashes between different groups. So it’s very difficult to understand exactly what is happening.”
Videos shared on social media had earlier shown military vehicles patrolling Conakry’s streets and one military source said the only bridge connecting the mainland to the Kaloum neighbourhood, where the palace and most government ministries are located, had been sealed off.
Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, reporting from Dakar in neighbouring Senegal, said troops had been deployed in downtown Conakry and ordered residents over loudspeakers to remain indoors.
Haque said the area near the Hotel Kaloum was the scene of shooting and President Conde was reportedly nearby at the time.
“This comes a week after the national parliament voted an increase in budget for the presidency and parliamentarians, but a substantial decrease for those working in the security services like the police and the military.”
Conde won a third presidential term in a violently disputed election last October. He ran after pushing through a new constitution in March 2020 which allowed him to sidestep the country’s two-term limit, provoking mass protests.
Dozens of people were killed during demonstrations, often in clashes with security forces. Hundreds were also arrested.
Conde, 83, was then proclaimed president on November 7 last year – despite complaints of electoral fraud from his main challenger Cellou Dalein Diallo and other opposition figures.
Guinea has witnessed sustained economic growth during Conde’s decade in power thanks to its bauxite, iron ore, gold and diamond wealth, but few of its citizens have seen the benefits.
A former opposition activist himself, Conde became Guinea’s first democratically elected president in 2010 and won re-election in 2015 before doing so again last year. Critics, however, accuse him of veering towards authoritarianism.
Haque said the growing discontent with Conde was rooted in his inability to unite the population – the majority of who are Fulanis but are ruled by the minority Malinke ethnic group.
“It’s interesting to see officers go to the national television on social media calling for unity and the reason being is because the military remains divided,” he said. “There are still members that support Alpha Conde and will go out of their way to defend the president.”
Colonel Mamadi Doumbouya is himself a member of the Malinke group.