CONAKRY, Guinea – Guinea's coup leader declared a zero tolerance policy on corruption Saturday, vowing to renegotiate the country's numerous mining contracts and warning that anyone who embezzles state funds will be executed.
Capt. Moussa Camara also extended an apparent concession to Guinea's opposition, telling them they could help choose a prime minister following international criticism that elections are not planned for two more years.
On a concrete stage inside the barracks from where he launched his rebellion Tuesday, Camara jabbed his finger at the sky as he swore to do away with the corruption that has drained the mineral-rich state's coffers and impoverished the West African nation's 10 million people.
"For the person who embezzles money, there won't be a trial. They'll be killed," he said as the crowd went wild. "I was born in a hut. I walked to school. ... Money means nothing to me."
Guinea is the world's largest producer of bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminum, and also produces diamonds and gold. Yet its mineral wealth was siphoned off to enrich the country's longtime ruling family and its collaborators.
Guinea has been ruled by only two people since gaining independence from France half century ago. The late dictator Lansana Conte died on Monday and the military junta led by Camara declared the coup a day later.
He said the country's ruling clique "spit on the faces of the poor," enriching themselves at the population's expense.
One of the remedies he proposed was reviewing the country's mining contracts and renegotiating them if the terms are unfavorable. He did not name any specific companies whose contracts might be affected.
Even as the crowd of thousands cheered him, the international community continued its condemnation of the coup. South African President Kgalema Motlanthe condemned it "an affront to peace, stability and democracy."
The United States has called for the immediate restoration of civilian rule, while the European Union said the junta needs to hold elections by next year, not two years from now as Camara has promised.
But Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade — a key player in the region's politics — urged other countries to leave the new junta alone. "I call on all countries, notably France, to not throw stones at them and to take them at their word," Wade said during a trip to Paris.
In a move appeared calculated to address the international community's concerns, Camara said he is calling on Guinea's opposition, including its powerful unions, to propose the name of a prime minister.
Rabiatou Serah Diallo, head of one of Guinea's largest unions, welcomed the move. She added the unions were keeping an eye on the coup leaders: "If they deviate from the road they promise to take us on, then they'll find us blocking their path."
Camara was largely unknown to most Guineans before his group seized public airwaves and declared the coup. On Saturday, he invited civilian community leaders — including union leaders, religious heads, politicians and human rights workers — to meet him at his barracks.
He arrived surrounded by a cordon of soldiers armed with machine guns. They hollered at the crowd to move back. Many wore fetishes tied around their arms and necks intended to protect them from harm. Camara, a short man with a taut face, took the microphone, electrifying the crowd with one pronouncement after another.
A generation of Guineans have known only Lansana Conte as their ruler and even though the coup leader appears to enjoy broad support, tens of thousands turned out for the dictator's funeral on Friday. Too many people tried to enter parliament to see the president's coffin, causing security forces beat them back with rubber belts.
When the coffin wound its way to the capital's 25,000-seat stadium, so many people had crowded inside that spectators began suffocating and ambulances rushed half a dozen unconscious people away.
The funeral ended on the manicured grounds of the ex-president's estate in his village located around 40 miles northwest of the capital. With state funds, Conte built himself a house the size of a hotel fronting a lake. His family — including two of his three wives and an estimated 20 children — showed up in Hummers, stretch limousines and flashy SUVs.
As they put his body to rest, the sun went down over the village of his birth. Most of the country — including much of the capital — has no electricity. But as the darkness fell, the homes in the village shone with light.