CONAKRY, Guinea – Security forces in Guinea opened fire on a car carrying three of the country's top opposition leaders Monday, leaving bullet holes in the sides of the vehicle and heightening tension between the country's opposition and the ruling party, according to witnesses. No casualties were reported.
Opponents of the ruling party had gathered early Monday at the home of opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo, who came in second during the 2010 election. Before the crowd could amass outside his villa, police began firing tear gas at the house, said Sidya Toure, an opposition leader who came in third in the first round of the 2010 vote. Alongside them was Lansana Kouyate, an opposition leader who came in fourth place in the poll.
To try to get away from the tear gas, Toure said the three of them jumped into Kouyate's bullet-proof car. The driver attempted to head to Kouyate's house in the Matoto neighborhood of Conakry, but on the way police began pounding the car with tear gas, said Toure as well as witnesses on the street.
"It's the first time that I have seen something like this happen in Guinea. They were throwing the cannisters, aiming for the car's reservoir. Then they started to shoot," Sidya said in a telephone interview with The Associated Press from Kouyate's house, where the three had taken cover.
"They completely destroyed the cars that were in the convoy behind us. ... At first, when I heard the shooting, I thought they must be shooting more tear gas. It was when we got out that we saw the impact of the bullets. ... Thank God we were in a bullet-proof car," he said.
The opposition has been holding regular protests to stand up to what they say is President Alpha Conde's attempts to tinker with the electoral code. At issue is this the country's parliamentary race which has been delayed many times due to disputes between the ruling party and the opposition over the makeup of the electoral list, and of the commission that will referee the race.
Over the weekend, the governor of Conakry issued a decree, outlawing the protest planned for Monday. The opposition decided to go ahead, despite the ban.
"Live rounds were fired at our car. It's an inadmissible act," Kouyate told private radio station Planet FM, after reaching his home. "We are holed up in my residence where we will decide what measures to take."
The three leaders that were inside the car are some of the best-known politicians in Guinea. All three are former prime ministers, and all three ran in the 2010 presidential election, placing within the top four in the first round of the ballot.
In retaliation for the attack on the leaders, the opposition has decided to withdraw the members of their political parties currently serving in the institutions of the state, including its lawmakers in parliament, its Cabinet members and its appointees on the electoral commission.
In a statement read by Aboubacar Sylla, spokesman for a coalition of opposition parties, the leaders said: "We declare that we are suspending our participation in all the republican institutions."
Sylla added that they will press charges against Conde's government for "attempted assassination and brutality on a public right-of-way." The statement also said the opposition is urging its supporters to continue peaceful protests throughout the country, auguring more unrest.
The decision to remove their members from the government will rob Conde's administration of the image of inclusivity.
Guinea held its first democratic election in 2010, ending decades of dictatorship and strongman rule. However, the election was marred by ethnic violence. The majority of the protesters joining Monday's demonstration were from the Peul ethnic group, the ethnicity of Cellou Dalein Diallo, the defeated candidate. However, they were joined by members of the Soussou ethnic group, the ethnicity of Toure, as well as some Malinke, the ethnicity of Kouyate.