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Soldier Attacks on Presidential Palace Continue

February 3, 1996

CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) _ Soldiers fired on the presidential palace with cannons and guns today in an army mutiny that a radio report says has left the president hiding in a bunker and 20 people dead.

President Lansana Conte told Radio France Internationale this morning that he was in the bunker on the palace grounds _ and still in power of the poor West African nation.

``At this time, I still have power, the power that the people entrusted to me,″ Conte told RFI. ``Those who want to take power _ they don’t have it yet.″

Officials at the U.S. Embassy said today they didn’t know whether an actual coup attempt was under way.

RFI reported rebel soldiers attacked the palace with cannons and gunfire at least seven times since Friday night.

Conte, in a radio address to the nation Friday, said eight civilians had been killed. RFI said today at least 20 people were dead and 70 injured. State television and radio were broadcasting only music.

Witnesses in the capital said soldiers were roaming the streets and shooting at random. The shooting rampage began Friday morning with soldiers demanding back pay and the defense minister’s resignation.

Conte went on national radio Friday afternoon appealing for calm. Later, Conte said attackers had set the palace on fire but the fire was extinguished and the attackers repelled.

The president’s address indicated there were two groups of soldiers, one on strike and the other plotting to overthrow the government.

The French Foreign Affairs Ministry said it was closely monitoring events in its former colony ``and hopes for a quick return to calm.″

Guinea gained independence in 1958. Conte has ruled the West African country, one of the poorest in the world, since a 1984 military coup. He retained power in the country’s first elections in 1993.

Conte met one demand by firing Defense Minister Col. Abdourahmane Diallo on Friday. Some soldiers accuse him of blocking pay raises and promotions.

Witnesses said gunshots were reported near the airport this morning, but the news blackout on state radio and television made it difficult to confirm. The airport remained closed.

The city, usually bustling with people going to market or to work, was nearly deserted.

``It didn’t look at all like a natural day. It looked way too calm,″ said Deborah Grieser, acting public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy. Americans living in the capital were urged by the Embassy to stay indoors.

The clashes follow recent coups in two other West African countries. The president of Niger was ousted in a coup on Jan. 27. On Jan. 17 the military ruler of Sierra Leone was ousted by army officers six weeks before planned elections to hand the country to civilian rule.

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