Guinea security forces arrested several civil society leaders in the build up to a planned protest against constitutional review, with some fearing, it would pave the way for President Alpha Conde to extend his tenure in power.
Among those arrested were Abdourahmane Sanoh, the coordinator of the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution – a coalition of opposition parties, trade unions and civil society groups – Mohamed Traore, a lawyer for the group, said on Sunday.
Government spokesman Aboubacar Sylla didn’t immediately answer calls seeking comment.
Conde, 81, reportedly asked his government last month to start consultations on possible amendments to the constitution, sparking concerns that he could seek to stand for a third term in elections in coming year.
Reports say the civil society leaders had gathered at Sanoh’s house and were heading to a meeting with the media when they were detained by security forces.
The group, according to sources, has called for mining companies, banks, factories and filling stations to remain closed on Monday this week, the date of the scheduled protest. Guinea’s army chief of staff, Namory Toure, also reportedly ordered soldiers to remain in their barracks to prevent violence.
Five people reportedly lost their lives during demonstrations called to oppose a possible change to the constitution.
The Police opened fire in clashes with demonstrators in the capital, Conakry in which four protesters were shot dead according to the Guinean Organisation for the Defense of Human Rights (OGDH).
Protests in the city of Mamou, an opposition stronghold east of the capital, also turned violent on Monday.
Government spokesman Damantang Albert Camara said a gendarme in Mamouone and protester in Conakry had been shot dead.
Opposition leader Cellou Diallo, who came second behind Conde in the 2010 and 2015 presidential elections, told reporters that four protesters had been shot dead in Conakry. He said at least 38 people had been wounded in Conakry and Mamou.
“We encourage citizens to continue to demonstrate – today, tomorrow, the day after tomorrow – until our legitimate demands are satisfied,” he said. “We need a clear, firm and irrevocable declaration from Alpha Conde renouncing a third term.”
In a statement, rights group Amnesty International said it condemned the four deaths in the capital and urged the security forces to “refrain from using excessive and deadly force” and urged authorities to release “people arbitrarily arrested for organising the protests”.
Six opposition figures were arrested ahead of the protests on Monday, the first in a series of planned demonstrations, with an alliance of opposition parties and civil society groups known as the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC) calling for a significant turnout.
A small number of people took part in scattered demonstrations across the capital, Conakry, but security was out in force, breaking up makeshift barricades and making some arrests as protesters burned tyres and threw stones.
Conde is nearing the end of his second term close to a maximum of ten years currently allowed by law. He was first elected in 2010 in the country’s first democratic transition of power since independence from France in 1958. Compiled by Abu Bakarr Tarawally