CONAKRY — Guinean President Alpha Conde appealed for calm on Friday after rival ethnic gangs fought with knives and truncheons in the capital in a third day of violence over an upcoming election in the volatile West African nation.
Security forces in full anti-riot gear took to the streets of the crumbling seaside capital Conakry to try to stem violence in which at least 65 people were injured, according to a statement from the presidency.
“All sides must avoid provocation, personal vengeance and taking justice into their own hands,” Conde said in a televised address to the nation.
“I ask religious leaders, security forces, elected officials and political leaders to call for calm.”
The unrest began with an opposition protest on Wednesday, in which some 130 people were injured.
A long-delayed legislative vote, tentatively set for May, is meant to complete a transition to civilian rule after a 2008 military coup, and could open the door to hundreds of millions of dollars in European aid.
But preparations for the poll have been hampered by opposition claims the government is seeking to rig the outcome in advance, leading to a political impasse and sparking sporadic street protests that often turn violent.
Residents of Conakry fled in panic as the gangs from rival ethnic groups roamed the streets. Shops and business were looted in many parts of the city.
“It has become very bad. People set fire to a car right in front of me. I’ve seen four people injured in the fighting,” said Souleymane Bah, a resident of Bambeto, one of several areas where clashes were reported.
Politics in Guinea, the world’s top supplier of bauxite, the raw material in aluminium, are mainly drawn along ethnic lines. The opposition coalition is broadly supported by members of the Peul ethnicity — the country’s biggest ethnic group — and the government by the Malinke.
The fighting on Friday follows two days of anti-government protests that have sharpened those divisions. One civilian was killed in those protests and scores of protesters and police were injured.