Guinea: Government and Unions Sign Agreement, General Unlimited Strike Suspended

28 January 2007

Conakry — Under clear skies and a radiant full moon on Saturday night, Guineans took to the streets of Conakry, the capital city of this west African country lying on the Atlantic shoreline, congratulating each other and honking automobiles and motorbikes horns to celebrate.

After an 18-day nationwide general indefinite strike which paralyzed the country's business and administrative activities, government representatives, trade unions officials and religious leaders announced after a 12-hour marathon an agreement designed to end the standoff.

On Friday, President Lansana Conte agreed to nominate a "consensus prime minister" a pre-condition set by the unions before they would agree to talks about other issues included in the list of the reasons they went on strike on January 10 .

Under the terms of the memorandum of understanding signed late Saturday, Conte has to nominate a prime minister, who will head the government and hold executive power, including the authority to nominate and remove cabinet members and other senior civil servants. The new prime minister will be appointed for a three-year transition period during which parliamentary and presidential elections will be organized. Also included in the agreement is a reduction in the prices for fuel and rice, the main staple in the country.

"There are no winners and no losers tonight", declared Elhadji Aboubacar Sompare, president of the National Assembly who has been coordinating the government's negotiation team. "This is a victory of all Guineans."

Dr Ibrahima Fofana, spokesman of the trade unions, announced the "suspension" of the general strike and added that the unions "invite all Guineans in both private and public sectors to resume work starting this evening of Saturday. January 27.

Conte, who is 72,  took power in a 1984 coup but has since won three elections. He is known to be suffering from severe diabetes, which, the unions argue, makes it impossible for him to govern effectively. The just suspended strike has been bloody. The official death toll is 59, all on the side of the demonstrators.

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