CONAKRY: Tens of thousands of people marched on Thursday in the streets of Guinea’s capital protesting a bid by the president to seek another term.

Several thousand police and gendarmes were deployed but the march was calm unlike last week’s smaller protests in which at least nine people were killed and hospitals were overwhelmed with scores of people wounded by gunshots.

Most demonstrators wore red shirts bearing the acronym for the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution, the coalition of civil society and political groups that organised the marches. Its leaders were given prison sentences on Tuesday for insurrection and disturbing the public peace.

“We simply want President Alpha Cond to agree to give up his plans to amend the 2010 constitution,” said Fode Oussou Fofana, the vice president of main political opposition party Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea.

He said they want Conde to “give way to a new president”.

Cellou Dalein Diallo, the party leader, said that if the government wants to talk instead of act, Guineans will keep marching. “As long as the leaders of the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution are in prison, we will not dialogue with the government,” he said.

Cond’s mandate ends in December 2020 but he seeks a referendum to allow a third term in the West African nation of some 12 million people.

The 81-year-old Cond was elected to a five-year term in 2010 in the country’s first democratic transition of power since independence from France in 1958. He was re-elected in 2015.

Crowds of young people on Thursday sang Guinea’s national anthem while marching, as others held banners saying “No to the 3rd mandate”, “Touch not my constitution” and “Alpha Conde Zero”. “Alpha Cond also wants to change the constitution to stay in power until his death. It will not work,” said artist Kefine Konate.

Gen Mathurin Bangoura, the governor of Conakry, said demonstrators would be safe. “Our duty is to secure those who demonstrate. But also, those who are not interested in this event. This is what we do. To avoid any slippage. As walking is allowed,” he said.

Guinea’s security forces have historically clamped down on demonstrations. While Conde’s government has been more tolerant than past administrations, Human Rights Watch has said it has banned dozens of planned protests this year.

Amnesty International has said more than 100 people have died during protests over the past decade.

Published in Dawn, October 25th, 2019