CONAKRY, Guinea – Guinea's military government said Tuesday it has signed a $7 billion mining agreement with a Chinese company.
Mines Minister Mahmoud Thiam did not name the company involved but said the Chinese firm "will be a strategic partner in all mining projects" in the West African country.
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 long siphoned off to enrich the country's longtime ruling elite. Guinea had been ruled by only two people since gaining independence from France half century ago until Capt. Moussa "Dadis" Camara seized power in a coup in December.
Camara initially said he would not run in elections scheduled for January, but recently indicated that he may have changed his mind.
A human rights group says 157 people were killed and more than 1,000 wounded late last month when soldiers opened fire at 50,000 pro-democracy demonstrators at the national soccer stadium. The government put the death toll at 57.
Thiam said the Chinese mining projects will help Guinea's poor and dismissed criticisms that such a deal should have waited until after next year's elections.
"We are in a transition putting down foundations and hope the next government will follow suit," Thiam said.
Africa's trade with China reached more than $100 billion in 2008 and has multiplied by 10 since 2001, according to the African Economic Outlook.
The arrival of the Chinese puts them in direct competition with the American-owned Guinea Bauxite Company CBG and the Russians' RUSAL. The Russians have been in a legal tussle with the junta over whether the mines are owned by Guinea's government.
Meanwhile, thousands of Guineans stayed home Tuesday for a second day as a part of a national mourning for those killed at the stadium. Guinea's government has issued a statement saying it supported the trade unions' call for people to stay home for two days.