(AFP) – Dec 26, 2008
CONAKRY (AFP) — Guinea paid its final respects Friday to late dictator Lansana Conte as the military junta that seized control in the wake of his death planned a charm offensive to gain international legitimacy.
Supporters and even critics of the veteran strongman, who also took power in a coup and ruled for 24 years, were among tens of thousands taking part in the funeral ceremony in Conakry.
The junta's second-in-command, General Mamadou Ba Toto Camara, paid homage to Conte, whose 24-year rule was marked by corruption, rigged elections and the repression of protest.
"We will accompany him to his last resting place and we pray God to give us the courage to continue his work of tolerance and peace for the welfare of Guinea," the general said at a national stadium packed beyond its 20,000 capacity.
Conte's coffin, draped with Guinea's red, yellow and green flag and escorted by presidential guards, was driven around the stadium as the crowd stood and applauded.
Earlier, the coffin was displayed at a ceremony held in the parliament building.
Among the mourners were the presidents of Guinea's neighbours, Ernest Bai Koroma of Sierra Leone, Liberia's Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Laurent Gbagbo of Ivory Coast and Joao Bernardo Vieira of Guinea-Bissau.
Vieira called Conte "a man devoted to peace and justice."
The top officials of the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States, Jean Ping and Mohammed Ibn Chambas, were also present along with civil and military officials, and Conte's wives and children.
Despite frequently denouncing Conte for "pillaging" the country, trade union leaders were among those paying respect with messages of condolence to his family.
But Captain Moussa Dadis Camara , the junta head who now styles himself president, could not be seen at the ceremonies.
Conte's body was to be taken later to a mosque and then to the village of Lansanaya, around 120 kilometers (75 miles) northwest of Conakry, for burial.
Beset by calls from abroad to return the country to civilian rule and stage elections, Camara has invited foreign envoys to meet with him on Saturday "to reassure the international community."
The junta, in a statement read on national radio, said it would first hold an "informational meeting" at 1000 GMT with "representatives of civil society, political parties, religious faiths and unions."
A second meeting would take place at noon for representatives of the United Nations, European Union and African Union and the Group of Eight leading industralised countries.
Senegal's President Abdoulaye Wade called on the international community Friday to recognise the military junta, in a press conference held during a visit to Paris.
"I think that this group of soldiers deserves to be backed," Wade told reporters at Senegal's embassy in Paris, shortly after talking to Camara by telephone.
Wade, a key African ally of Guinea's former colonial power France, is the first head of state to come out in support of the coup, which has been roundly condemned by the European Union, the United States and the African Union.
The veteran Senegalese president said he had been asked by Camara to serve as his spokesman to the rest of the world, and described the army captain as an honest young man who had taken power to fill a dangerous power vacuum.
The coup has met with widespread international criticism, particularly of Camara's decision to rule out elections for at least two years.
Former colonial power France urged Guinea to organise free elections within six months "so that the people of Guinea can freely express its will," in a statement earlier Friday.
South Africa joined the international condemnation, as President Kgalema Motlanthe called on the junta to immediately step down and hand power to the national assembly speaker as required by the constitution.
The United States has also demanded an immediate return to civilian rule in the country of 10 million people.
Camara on Thursday won the allegiance of Conte's prime minister Ahmed Tidiane Souare, who addressed him as "Mr President" and told the coup leader that he and his ministers were ready to serve the junta.
Camara, who has already appointed a military-dominated governing council in place of the civilian government, assured Souare of his safety and told him that military rule was only temporary.
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »