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Coup declared after death of Guinea's president

In what appears to be a coup, a group calling itself the National Council for Democracy has announced that Guinea's constitution and parliament have been dissolved but the prime minister insists the government is still functioning normally.

In what appears to be a coup, a group calling itself the National Council for Democracy has announced that Guinea's constitution and parliament have been dissolved but the prime minister insists the government is still functioning normally.

A member of the group appeared on television wearing a military uniform on Tuesday just hours after the death of the dictator of the West African country, President Lansana Conte.

Government officials only said that Conte, a diabetic whose failing health had been rumoured for years, died of an illness on Monday night. Conte, 74, had ruled the country for nearly 25 years.

Conte had seized power in a military coup in 1984 following the death of President Ahmed Sekou Toure.

Government dissolved

The uniformed man read a statement for state television and radio that said the government, constitution, courts and parliament had been dissolved.

Media in the country have identified the man who read the statement as Capt. Moussa David Camara. It was not clear if he was a leader of the coup or only a spokesman.

"The institutions of the republic are dissolved," said Camara. "From this moment on, the council is taking charge of the destiny of the Guinean people."

"We were all waiting for the situation to degenerate when Conte died, because the question of succession was never decided," said Jean-Hervé Jezequel, a West Africa scholar in France who works for the MSF Foundation, which is linked to the aid group Doctors Without Borders.

"Much will depend on whether another strongman emerges or not in the coming days," said Jezequel.

During the statement, Camara said that dissolving the government was justified because of widespread corruption, impunity, anarchy and a "catastrophic economic situation."

Guinea has large reserves of bauxite, used to make aluminum. Major international mining companies operate in the country. But its 10 million residents are among the poorest in the world, in a country that has struggled with the costs of imported food, a deteriorating economy with high unemployment and corruption.

Camara ordered citizens to stay home and told heads of the various branches of government to go immediately to the Alpha Yaya Diallo barracks for a meeting.

Lacking full military support

National Assembly President Aboubacar Sompare confirmed that a military coup was underway in Guinea but it did not appear to have the support of the entire armed forces.

Reports are suggesting the National Council for Democracy appears to include junior level military officers.

"I don't think all of the military are behind it…. It's a group," Sompare told a French television station on Tuesday.

According to the constitution, Sompare was in line to take over as the country's president following Conte's death. The new head of state would have to organize a presidential election within 60 days.

Camara said a ruling council that reflected "ethnic balance" would be established and presidential elections would be held shortly thereafter.

Legislative elections were already scheduled to occur in 2009.

Jezequel said any new leadership would likely hold some type of presidential elections to appease the country's labour unions.

The European Union has called on Guinea's political and military leaders to "respect constitutional measures to ensure a peaceful transition" via elections.

Troops heading for palace

Despite the attempted coup, in a televised statement from his office at the presidential palace, Prime Minister Ahmed Tidiane said his government has not been dissolved and that the government is continuing to function as it should.

Locals in the seaside capital of Conakry were reporting that soldiers and police were guarding the presidential palace and the central bank on Tuesday.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press is reporting that three tanks and dozens of armed soldiers are heading toward Guinea's presidential compound. It is unclear where the troops' allegiance lies.

With files from the Associated Press

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