A demonstration against a local official turned violent in the northern Guinean town of Kouroussa on Thursday, leaving two people seriously injured.
The demonstrators were demanding to know the whereabouts of 150 million Guinea francs (US$40,000), funds that are handed out to the community each year as development assistance by a mining company operating in the area.
An angry crowd consisting mainly of youths marched toward the residence of Charles Andre Haba, the town prefect, or top government official, demanding he account for his handling of the money.
The injuries occurred when the prefect’s guards opened fire on the protesters. State radio reported that two of the demonstrators were wounded as a result of gunshots to the head and abdomen.
The violence follows ethnic clashes at the end of July in nearby Kankan, which required the intervention of the military. With Guinea’s seriously ill President Lansana Conte lacking a clear successor and the economy in dire straits, there are concerns the country could soon spiral out of control.
Following the incident, Haba accused supporters of the opposition Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) of being behind the demonstrations.
“It’s political machinations on the part of the RPG, pure and simple,” he told state news.
Kouroussa is a stronghold of the RPG whose leader, Alpha Conde, returned recently from two years in exile but has threatened to boycott municipal elections slated for later this year. The party's secretary general, however, denied the prefect's claim.
“The RPG cannot be held responsible for the prefect’s follies,” said Mohamed Diane, speaking to IRIN by phone.
“As a matter of fact, this is not the first time Haba has gotten himself entangled in the people’s money, so blaming the RPG for this particular situation amounts to him trying to make a scapegoat out of my party.”
In 2002, Haba was removed from office amid allegations of financial misdoings involving the same company. Following this clash, many local residents are asking how Haba found himself once again as prefect of Kouroussa.
The Brussels-based International Crisis Group recently warned that Guinea, a country where over half the population lives on less than a dollar a day, was at risk of becoming the next failed state in West Africa.