Conte unhurt in shooting, hints at discord

President Lansana Conte of Guinea said in a speech on state radio and television on Wednesday night that he had escaped unharmed from an attempt on his life earlier in the day.

"Those who were sent to shoot at me were not men of God, that is why they did not succeed. God has not yet decided. When someone's time is up, they go," Conte said.

The president did not say who was responsible for opening fire on his motorcade as he drove into the capital Conakry from his home village nearby, but he hinted at divisions within the establishment and urged all his ministers to work closely with recently appointed Prime Minister Cellou Dalien Diallo.

Conte also referred to "threats from those who do not wish to see the development of Guinea or those who obey orders given to them from abroad."

"Many things have happened in Guinea, but they don't frighten me," the president said. "The only thing that frightens me is when some Guineans say they agree with me, but then do the opposite of what I want. And these are brothers who I cannot reject."

Conte, a former army colonel who came to power in a 1984 coup, reiterated that nobody, either at home or abroad, would tell him what to do.

"Everybody knows that I do not take orders from anyone," he said. "It is not Guinea that it is the problem, for those who wish to do us harm. It is me. And I will not be manipulated."

Moussa Sampil, the Minister for Internal Security, blamed the assassination attempt on un-named opponents of Conte. "This morning's events only confirm what we have said all along; there are plots against the regime," he told Radio France Internationale (RFI).

During his 21-year rule, Conte has frequently detained civilian opposition leaders and suspected dissidents within the armed forces on charges of plotting against him.

Sampil said several suspects at the scene of the shooting had been arrested and he confirmed the government had stepped up security at key installations in the capital as a precautionary measure.

One eyewitness of the shooting told RFI that the attackers had exchanged gunfire with Conte's bodyguards for about four minutes before dropping their weapons and fleeing.

State radio said one presidential bodyguard had been seriously injured in the incident.

Heavier than usual security was in evidence around the presidential palace and the television and radio centre in central Conakry on Thursday, but otherwise life in the city returned to normal as people celebrated the Muslim feast of Eid el Kibr.

This celebrates Abraham's decision to sacrifice a ram to God instead of his son. Those Muslims who can afford to do so kill a sheep and share the meat among their family and friends.

Conte appeared in public on Thursday morning to pray on the lawn of the old presidential palace, which was shelled and burned down by dissident army units in a 1996 military rebellion.

The president, who will be 71 this year and is lame from chronic diabetes, tottered a few steps from his car to the praying ground, with aides at his elbows. He was surrounded by dozens of bodyguards.

Conte, who often prays at the old presidential palace at important Muslim festivals, looked sombre and thoughtful.