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West African Country Reported Calm After Mutiny

February 3, 1996

CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) _ State television and radio were silent and few people or cars moved through the streets of the capital today, but President Lansana Conte said he was still in power despite an army mutiny.

In an interview with Radio France International early today, Conte said he had been holed up in a bunker during three attacks on the presidential palace throughout the night. He said things had been calm since 4 a.m.

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

At least eight people died Friday when soldiers demanding back pay and the defense minister’s resignation went on a shooting rampage through the city.

Conte went on national radio at about 4:45 p.m. Friday appealing for calm. Later, Conte said attackers had set his presidential palace on fire but the fire had been extinguished and the attackers repelled.

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

State radio and television, which broadcast music Friday, remained dark today. The report by independent Radio France International _ which covers all of French-speaking Africa _ would have been heard in Guinea.

Conte met one of the mutineers’ demands by firing Defense Minister Col. Abdourahmane Diallo, whom some soldiers accused of blocking pay raises and promotions.

Witnesses said gunshots were reported near the airport this morning, but the news blackout made it difficult to confirm.

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 West African country, one of the most impoverished in the world, has been ruled by Conte since he seized power in a 1984 military coup.

Conte won re-election in the country’s first elections in 1993. The elections, however, were marred by violence, ballots were missing and the government was accused of discounting the vote of political exiles.

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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