Opposition rejects offer of access to state media

The main opposition parties in Guinea have rejected a government offer of access to state-controlled radio and television during the run-up to elections due in December, in which ailing President Lansana Conte will seek a further seven-year term.

Conte, who has ruled Guinea with an iron hand since coming to power in a 1984 coup, has steadfastly resisted demands by western donors to allow private radio and television stations to function in the poor but proudly independent country. Large volumes of aid money have been withheld as a result.

Earlier this week, Interior Minister Moussa Solano, who has been charged by Conte with establishing a dialogue with the opposition, said he was prepared to allow the activities of opposition parties to be covered on state media.

However, this offer was immediately rejected by Jean-Marie Dore, the spokesman for Guinea's seven main opposition groups.

"We will never accept any verbal commitments and will only consider a signed statement by the authorities," Dore told IRIN. He also pointed out that the government had not moved at all on opposition demands for the creation of a genuinely independent national electoral commission to organise the poll.

Dore was speaking on behalf of his Union for the Progress of Guinea (UPG) party and six mainstream opposition parties grouped in the Republic Front for Democratic Change (FRAD). All seven parties have boycotted a process of dialogue which Solano attempted to launch with opposition parties in July.

Conte meanwhile returned home on Friday from a six-day visit to Italy and Morocco, his first overseas trip for a year, amid persistent speculation that the main purpose of his journey was to receive medical treatment. Diplomats say the former army colonel, who suffers from diabetes and heart problems, has made previous visits to Morocco to receive medical treatment.

Conte admitted publicly in December that he was unwell. Since then his public appearances have been infrequent. Accepting the presidential nomination of his ruling Party of Unity and Progress (PUP) earlier this month, the head of state warned party leaders that they would have to do all the campaigning since he was unwilling to travel round the interior.

Conte flew to Milan in northern Italy on Saturday. Government officials said the purpose of his trip was to discuss support for Guinean agriculture with Italian firms. His subsequent 24-hour visit to Rabat was described as a private visit to see members of his family.

Unusually, state television had not shown so far pictures of Conte's activities in either country.

President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo visited Milan a few weeks last month amid reports that he received treatment at the city's Legnano hospital. The reports were strenuously denied by Togolese officials who insisted that Africa's longest serving leader was simply on a private visit to the city.