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A faction of Guinea’s military claimed to have taken charge of the mineral-rich nation on Sunday, as officers from an elite special forces unit declared that they had suspended the constitution and detained President Alpha Condé following hours of clashes in the West African nation’s capital.

A military officer draped in the country’s red, green and yellow flag announced on state television that Guinea’s government had been dissolved and its borders closed. A separate video shared online and verified by a senior European intelligence official showed the 83-year-old Mr. Condé sitting silently while under arrest, flanked by armed and masked men in military fatigues.

A power struggle appeared to be under way in the capital of Conakry as night fell, with the Defense Ministry claiming in a contradictory statement that the coup had been foiled. Western security officials said the situation was “fluid" but the putschists, who controlled state television, “held the cards."

In a tweet, António Guterres, the United Nations’ secretary general, said he “strongly condemn[ed] any takeover of the government by force of the gun. and call[ed] for the immediate release of President Alpha Conde."

Small groups of cheering crowds, some waving flags, took to the streets of Conakry to celebrate the takeover, as the military fanned out across the capital, according to witnesses.

News of the latest attempted coup comes amid deepening instability across West Africa, where entrenched leaders have sought to extend their rule despite weakening economies and a surge in terrorist attacks, fueling anger among some of the world’s youngest populations. Sunday’s coup attempt comes just weeks after the military in neighboring Mali carried out a second coup in a year. Chad’s military staged a coup in April to replace President Idris Deby with his son after he was killed in battle against insurgents. Last year, Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara won a controversial third term, running for office after previously pledging to stand down. Last year, Mr. Condé deployed the military to push through controversial changes to the constitution and extend his term in power.

The self-declared leader of Guinea’s coup attempt, special forces chief and former French Legionnaire Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, said in a broadcast via social networks that elites had mistreated the country and that there would be an 18-month transition period.

“Guineans, the social, political and economic situation in the country…has led the military to decide to undertake its responsibility for the future of Guinea," he said. “We won’t repeat the mistakes of the past."

The location of President Condé is unknown and the video footage posted online showed him looking disheveled and disorientated. Once celebrated as Guinea’s first democratically elected president when he swept to victory in 2010, Mr. Condé has since centralized power around his personal authority and cracked down on opposition. Last year he deployed the military to push through controversial constitutional amendments that would have enabled him to stay in power until 2032—when he would be 94 years old.

The country, which has bountiful deposits of bauxite, iron ore, gold and diamonds, has logged robust economic growth over much of the past decade, but few of its citizens have seen the benefits. Facing a pandemic-related collapse in revenue, the government has significantly raised taxes in recent weeks, while the price of fuel has increased by 20%, aggravating the sense of discontent among many Guineans.

One senior French official said that France, the former colonial power, said that Mr. Doumbouya had been a French legionnaire many years ago but Paris had no role in the coup.

France, which has conducted military training with Guinea in recent years, distanced itself from Mr. Condé after he overhauled the constitution and won re-election in a vote the opposition decried as fraudulent.

Russia, whose ambassador voiced support for Mr. Condé’s re-election, was one of the few global powers still siding with the president, who was one of the first nation leaders to purchase Russia’s Sputnik coronavirus vaccine.

 

This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text

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