CONAKRY, Guinea – CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — Presidential campaigns in Guinea have been temporarily suspended after violence between rival campaign supporters left one person dead, a government official said Sunday.
Telecommunications Minister Talide Diallo also said 54 people were wounded when rival political parties clashed after a campaign event in the capital Saturday. That figure more than doubles previous estimates of 24 wounded people. He said rallies and campaigning are suspended but that elections in the tiny West African nation will be held as scheduled on Sept. 19.
The violence and its aftermath are signs of escalating tension ahead of next week's historic election, which many had hoped would mark a turning point for the troubled country that has known only authoritarian rule since winning independence from France in 1958.
Guineenews.org, a popular news portal, reported that clashes erupted in several parts of the capital.
It reported clashes near opposition leader Alpha Conde's home in the neighborhood of Mafanco, as well as near the Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) headquarters in Hamdallaye and in the 'quartier populaire' of Dixinn.
Each party blamed the other for starting the battles.
Souleymane Diallo, a spokesman for the Union for the Democratic Forces of Guinea, or UFDG, said their female supporters were returning from a meeting when supporters of the opposing Rally of the Guinean People, or RPG, began throwing rocks at them. Witnesses say a brawl broke out.
"We were coming back from a meeting of pro-UFDG women which had been held at the presidential palace, when a group of people started throwing rocks at us," said UFDG supporter Marietou Balde. "We started throwing rocks back at them, and it degenerated. People were injured."
RPG supporter Morifing Kaba, however, said the first stones were thrown by partisans of the UFDG. She said they were attacked by rock-throwers at the party's headquarters, where supporters had gathered for a campaign event.
A doctor at Donka Hospital, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the press, confirmed that 24 people were brought in with injuries, including open gashes.
The city appeared to have settled Sunday though there were reports that some shops had been looted.
Cellou Dalein Diallo, the UFDG candidate and a former prime minister, received 44 percent of the vote during the first round of voting in June.
In the election, he will face off against the RPG's Conde, an aging university professor and longtime opposition leader who got 18 percent during the first voting cycle.
Tension between the two is rooted in Guinea's ethnic divide, which has always hovered just below the surface of the country's politics.
Diallo is a Peul, the country's largest ethnic group, which has never had one of its own in power. Last year, the Peul were explicitly targeted during an army-led massacre of opposition supporters inside the national soccer stadium.
Women that had Peul features were dragged to the ground and raped, said survivors including women who were from other ethnic groups and who said that they tried to convince their aggressors that they were not Peul.
Although Conde spent decades as an icon of the opposition, he is a Malinke — a group heavily represented in the army, as well as in the junta blamed for the Sept. 28 massacre in which soldiers shot at pro-democracy protesters at the soccer stadium, leaving more than 150 people dead.
Associated Press Writer Rukmini Callimachi contributed to this report from Dakar, Senegal.