Guineans in post-massacre protest

CONAKRY: Shops, markets and offices were closed Monday in Conakry and other cities after labour unions called on residents to stay home in protest at the September 28 massacre which killed at least 150 people.

Little traffic ventured onto the streets of Guinea's capital two weeks after elite troops opened fire on thousands of demonstrators protesting military rule.

Banks and service stations were also shut in Conakry.

The union call received strong backing in the southeastern town of Kissidougou. Local trader Sall Mamadou Lamarana told AFP by telephone there was "no activity" in the main market. "All the shops, as well as the banks, have shut down, and the bus station as well," he said.

In northwestern Boke, "there is no activity at the market. People have been praying in the courtyards, and youth clubs," schoolteacher Sine Magassouba said by phone.

In a statement issued last week, the main union federation called on people to observe a "day of prayer", urging them to "kneel piously before the mortal remains of the ... martyrs for democracy in Guinea," killed when soldiers opened fire on the protest in a football stadium.

Rights organisations and the United Nations say that more than 150 people were killed and 1,200 injured, while the junta led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara puts the death toll at 56.

The trade unions asked people to "observe two days of homage and compassion and contemplation by way of protest and solidarity, on October 12 and 13."

"This means that all workers in the public, private and informal sector are invited to stay at home to pray for the memory of those felled by the bullets of the massacre of September 28," the secretary general of the National Organisation of Free Trade Unions in Guinea (ONSLG), Yamodou Toure, told AFP.

Schools were also closed, but the start of the new school year had in any case been delayed until Thursday in the wake of the violence that rocked the west African country.

On September 28, people defied a ban on protests to rally at the stadium for a demonstration to urge Camara not to stand for president in elections he has pledged to hold in January next year.

The killings began after presidential guard troops arrived in the stadium, but Camara has denied responsibility and declared himself "very, very sorry" for the slaughter.

The junta has been strongly condemned by the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, former colonial power France, the United States and a slew of other countries.

On September 18, the African Union gave the junta and its leader Camara one month to make a written commitment not to stand in the elections scheduled for the end of January or face "appropriate sanctions."

AU commission president Jean Ping said Sunday on the sidelines of a climate change forum in Ouagadougou that "the process is in hand," but added that the AU would discuss "the nature of sanctions in liaison with the international community."

Ping said the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), meeting Monday in the Nigerian capital Abuja, would decide what measures it wanted to take against Guinea, which is a member state.

"We're working in tandem with ECOWAS," Ping added. "We need a joint stance with ECOWAS."

ECOWAS commission head Mohamed Ibn Chambas last week met Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore, whom the regional body has appointed to mediate on the Guinea crisis in the wake of the massacre.

Amid mounting international pressure on Camara, rights groups have also reported many cases of rape and other abuses at the stadium.