World

Guinea president awake in hospital after shooting

Guinea's military strongman, shot last week in an assassination attempt and airlifted to a hospital in Morocco, is able to speak but is unlikely to return home soon, a government official said.

Guinea's military strongman, shot last week in an assassination attempt and airlifted to a hospital in Morocco, is able to speak but is unlikely to return home soon, a government official said Monday.

Guinea's foreign minister Alexandre Cece Loua said President Moussa (Dadis) Camara is alert and in possession of his mental faculties and his condition is "encouraging," an upgrade from earlier in the day when Camara reportedly was uncommunicative.

It is alleged that Camara was shot on Thursday by the commander of his presidential guard. He had to be airlifted to Morocco to seek medical aid.

A retired diplomat close to the junta had earlier said that a bullet had caused a splinter of bone from Camara's skull to pierce his brain and that he had to undergo a three- to four-hour-long operation.

Communications Minister Idrissa Cherif continued to insist Camara is doing well and due back shortly, having earlier described the injury as a minor "graze" of the head.

Loua denied reports that Camara's return was imminent, however, creating a potentially dangerous power vacuum in the resource-rich West African country.

Shooter still at large

Gen. Sekouba Konate, the vice-president of the military junta, rushed back to Conakry, the country's capital, to take control in Camara's absence.

Abubakar (Toumba) Diakite, the commander of the presidential guard who allegedly shot Camara, is still at large as the military junta launched a nationwide manhunt for him.

Gunfire reportedly broke out on Sunday after state television announced a toll-free number where citizens could call if they had information about Diakite's whereabouts.

The shooting is the culmination of a rift between Camara and members of his military junta following the massacre of 157 people attending a pro-democracy rally in September.

Local human rights groups said more than 1,200 people were also wounded when soldiers opened fire during a protest at a stadium in the West African country's capital of Conakry. Government officials put the toll at 57 people.

Diakite is accused of having led the presidential guard that opened fire on the demonstrators.

Camara had blamed the violence on what he called "uncontrollable elements" in the military.

Sanctions imposed on junta

The massacre led the European Union and African Union to level sanctions on Guinea and impose a travel ban on top members of the military junta.

Camara was an unknown military commander when he took power last December in a bloodless coup following the death of longtime dictator Lansana Conte.

The opposition protest came after Camara suggested he could run in presidential elections Jan. 31 after initially pledging that he would not run.

After the protest, he banned all demonstrations and gatherings.

Guinea is the world's biggest exporter of bauxite, a raw material used in the production of aluminum.

The country is also rich in gold, diamonds and iron, but since winning independence from France in 1958, Guinea has been controlled by a ruling elite while most of its 10 million people live in poverty.

With files from The Associated Press

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