Guinea Military Leader Bans Protests

Guinea's military leader banned all gatherings and demonstrations, and the United Nations' top human rights official on Wednesday pressed for an investigation into a rally in which troops opened fire on 50,000 pro-democracy protesters earlier this week.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay condemned the soldiers' use of live ammunition against the unarmed protesters who gathered Monday at a stadium to rally against military leader Capt. Moussa "Dadis" Camara.

A human rights group said 157 people were killed and more than 1,200 were wounded, while the government maintains 57 died and said most of them were trampled.

Guinea's government said it will investigate why troops opened fire at the pro-democracy rally.

Pillay welcomed the government's call for an investigation, but said "it is essential that such an inquiry is both independent and impartial so that all those responsible for carrying out summary executions, rapes and other human rights violations are brought to justice."

Camara called for two days of mourning starting Wednesday. Flags fluttered at half-staff in the capital's quiet streets Wednesday morning. Shops, schools and fuel stations were closed.

A top opposition leader said Wednesday his faction had no plans to hold another demonstration.

"Our priority is to bury our dead and to take care of our wounded," opposition leader Sidya Toure told The Associated Press by phone. "We are very far from making any demonstration plans. You know, Conakry is a very small town, people are traumatized."

Toure, a former prime minister, was arrested during the protests and released Tuesday. He said that he suffered head wounds and that he returned home to find his house had been ransacked. The house was also used as opposition party headquarters.

Camara appeared on state television late Tuesday, blaming the opposition for acting irresponsibly in Monday's demonstration and calling for an inquiry.

The protest in the capital's main soccer stadium turned bloody when Camara's presidential guard opened fire into the crowd of 50,000, scattering panicked demonstrators and leaving behind scores of dead. Opposition politician Mutarr Diallo said he witnessed soldiers raping women with rifle butts.

"It was the opposition politicians who led other people's sons and daughters to their deaths while their own sons and daughters are comfortably living elsewhere," Camara said, referring to wealthy Guineans who send their children abroad to study.

He said the government would pay the families of the wounded and dead. He also warned religious leaders, politicians and the media against inciting violence.

"I call on imams, political leaders, civil society groups and the mass media to refrain from doing or saying things that will further plunge this country into anarchy," he said.

Toure said that he had recognized several members of Guinea's junta in the stadium during demonstrations, including Camara's nephew and his top aide.

"These are the people that are directly next to Dadis," he said.

Eyewitnesses told New York-based Human Rights Watch that security forces stripped female protesters and raped them in the streets during Monday's protest. The rights group, citing eyewitness reports, said soldiers also stabbed protesters with knives and bayonets.

Hardly anyone had heard of Camara, an army captain in his 40s, until his men broke down the glass doors of the state TV station Dec. 23 after the death of longtime leader Lansana Conte. Camara announced that the constitution had been dissolved and that the country was under the rule of a military junta.

Since the coup, tensions have risen amid rumors that Camara may run in presidential elections scheduled for Jan. 31. Camara initially indicated that he would not but said recently he has the right to do so if he chooses.

Since winning independence half a century ago from France, Guinea has been pillaged by its ruling elite. Its 10 million people are among the world's poorest, even though its soil has diamonds, gold, iron and half the world's reserves of the raw material used to make aluminum.