Three senior ministers sacked from government

Long-ruling but ailing Guinean President Lansana Conte has sacked three senior ministers and replaced them with officials from his ruling party.

No reason was officially given for the dismissals of Security Minister Moussa Sampil, Foreign Affairs Minister Mamadi Conde and Mines Minister Alpha Mady Soumah that were announced on state radio late Tuesday.

However, observers noted that outgoing security minister Sampil had not managed to find the culprits behind what authorities say was a failed assassination attempt on Conte in January.

Following the attack on the president's motorcade in the capital Conakry, police acting on Sampil's orders arrested dozens of people including prominent journalists and lawyers. One detainee, a Muslim cleric, died in custody and all the others were later released.

Sampil, who was given a post at the justice ministry, was replaced by Ousmane Camara, a parliamentarian for Conte's Party of Unity and Progress (PUP).

Foreign Affairs Minister Conde was ousted in favour of Kaba Mahawa Sidibe, who has been serving as Guinea's ambassador to regional heavyweight Nigeria.

And Ahmed Tidiane Souare, a senior finance ministry official, takes over the mines portfolio from Soumah and with it responsibility for a third of the world's bauxite reserves.

Conte, who will be 71 this year, is a former army colonel who came to power in a 1984 coup. He has ruled the country with an iron hand since then, but he has been in poor health for the past three years. Diplomats say that chronic diabetes and a suspected heart ailment mean that he is no longer able to walk unassisted.

Discontent in the former French colony of eight million people has meanwhile been growing as a result of a steady decline in the economy and rampant government corruption. Food prices rose sharply last year, provoking rice riots in Conakry in July and there have been a number of strikes and demonstrations by poorly paid workers who are no longer able to make ends meet.