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Coup Leaders Tighten Grip On Guinea

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Leaders of a military coup are working to justify their action to the world. The soldiers took over the government of Guinea; that's one of many small nations that are laid out like piano keys along the coast of West Africa. Today, the new leaders appointed a civilian prime minister, and they're arguing that the government they replaced was not much of a government. NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Less than a week since the death of Guinea's veteran leader, himself a retired general, just like President Lansana Conte before them, the junior army officers who seized power are making promises and trying to justify their military coup, which has been condemned by the African Union, Washington and others. However, the soldiers have clearly convinced many Guineans, who are unhappy that their impoverished country has been suspended by the African Union.

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Unidentified Guinean Citizen #1: (Through translator) I say this was not a coup, rather it was just simply taking over power that was vacant, that belonged to no one. We had a constitution that was invalid and a national assembly that was illegitimate. We must be pragmatic and work with the present rulers and try and find a solution as quickly as possible.

Unidentified Guinean Citizen #2: (Through translator) I think Guinea is a special case. If the military has not taking power now, they would only have to much later.

QUIST-ARCTON: Captain Moussa Camara has promised elections in two years, which his critics claim is far too long. The counter argument goes, despite its mineral wealth, Guinea needs time to recover from decades of chronic underdevelopment and corrupt government. The president of neighboring Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, a political heavyweight in West Africa, says the soldiers should be given a chance.

President ABDOULAYE WADE (Senegal): (French spoken).

QUIST-ARCTON: The Senegalese leader says the military officers deserve our support. We should not throw stones at them. The influential Western regional community ECOWAS is prepared to work with the coup leaders so that Guinea returns to constitutional rule. And in the latest attempt to woo their critics, the soldiers were to hold talks today with Western diplomats in the capital, Conakry. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dakar. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.