Conakry — In a move which could potentially plunge Guinea into political and social turmoil, President Lansana Conté sacked his internationally-backed prime minister Lansana Kouyaté on 20 May, replacing him with long-time ally Ahmed Tidjane Souaré.
The change over was ordered by presidential decree and announced on the state-run television's evening news.
Disturbances and protests followed in the town of Kankan in the east of Guinea, which is dominated by people from Kouyaté ethnic group.
Violent protests were reported in Conakry's Madina and Matoto neighbourhoods but they were quashed by police and no deaths have so far been reported.
Observers had expected President Conté to keep Kouyaté at least until legislative elections in December 2008.
"There had been rumours in the newspapers that this might happen but it is still a surprise," opposition politician Mohamad Diane told IRIN.
"It is unclear if it will lead to further crisis," he added.
The day after the announcement, on 21 May, shops and businesses were open in Conakry and other urban centres, except Kankan were locals reported that shops were closed and the atmosphere tense.
Kouyaté, a former international diplomat, had been appointed prime minister in February 2007 as part of an ECOWAS-brokered deal to end weeks of bloody protests and strikes over the cost of living, which then turned into a call for President Conté to end his 24-year rule.
Mobilised by powerful trade unions and opposition leaders, Guineans took to the streets five times between 2006 and 2007 although there were no protests in 2008 despite even greater rises in the cost of living.
"The trade union movement is now weak and factionalised," said an analyst who did not want to be named, "and it has been partly co-opted by the government".
A key leader trade union leader, Hadja Rabiatou Sérah Diallo, declined to give a comment to IRIN but said the unions would make a formal statement "once a new government has been formed".
People have expressed disappointment in Kouyaté. "After 15 months in power he didn't really make much difference," said Alpha Oumar Sy Savané, an international business consultant.
"True, he did improve relations with the Bretton Woods institutions but things like water and electricity are in the same state as before, or even worse," he said.
"And the cost of living got a lot worse."
Oumou Barry, a civil servant, agreed and said it was time to find a new approach. Many people believe that Conté's decision was the right one, he said.
A Western diplomat in Conakry who did not want to be named said, "People are in a watch-and-wait mode".
Foreign donors had started increasing funding to the country, with further aid contingent on the success and transparency of legislative elections in December.
The representative of one European donor country in Guinea said it is too early to say what the impact of the dismissal will be.
"Donors are consulting each other and will coordinate over the next few days to decide the next steps," the official said.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations ]