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GUINEA: Appointment of new PM "violates" union agreement

CONAKRY, 23 May 2008 (IRIN) - Guinea's powerful union leaders said on 22 May that by recently sacking the prime minister, President Lansana Conté had violated the centrepiece of an agreement he signed in 2007 which brought an end to two months of bloody anti-government demonstrations that had paralyzed the country.

"This is a flagrant violation of the February 2007 agreement," Ibrahima Fofana, head of the Union of Guinean Workers (USTG) told IRIN.

Read an IRIN report on the sacking of Prime Minister Kouyate

Fofana said that none of the groups involved in picking the makeup of the changeover government in 2007 had been consulted. “The profile of the new prime minister does not fit the profile we agreed to in February 2007,” he said.

The unions have not made an all-out call to the population to go into the streets to protest. "We need dialogue before we can have any talk of a strike,” Fofana said.

"We will also use legal means at our disposal to make sure the agreement is respected,” he added.

The agreement between the unions and the government had been mediated by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

Old guard in the wings?

The unions said the newly-appointed prime minister Ahmed Tidiane Souaré was “incompetent”, pointing out that he was on a list of politicians associated with poor management of state resources made in an audit the ex-Prime Minister Kouyaté conducted into the government's handling of the country's finances over the past ten years.

"Souaré has re-appeared completely out of the blue,” Fofana said. “We do not understand how the president could have chosen one of the old guard.”

Raising the prospect of the new prime minister ushering back in other ex-ministers pushed out in February 2007, several of the former ministers were sitting alongside Souaré at his home on 22 May when he received journalists for a brief press conference.

Among them were two former prime ministers, Eugene Camara and Cellou Dalein Diallo.

Unions weak

But many observers wonder if union leaders could once again muster major protests, saying unions have become factionalised, politicised, and tainted by their associations with politicians.

“Few Guineans are ready to trust the unions again or willing to risk deadly clashes with security services,” one analyst told IRIN. “People did it in the past and saw little tangible change in living conditions.”

Signs of internal divisions were manifest during an all-day meeting of union leaders in Conakry on 22 May at which some union members said they wanted to launch protests immediately.

"Even if the secretary-generals of the unions don't want to go on strike, we, the union members, do," said Sekou N'fally Oulare, a member of a union based in the provincial capital Kindia.

Donor relations compromised

The unions released a written statement on 22 May saying that the president's breach of the 2007 agreement “seriously compromises” Guinea's relations with international financial institutions.

The World Bank and International Monetary Fund have been working with the Guinea's consensus government to forgive up to US$2 billion in debt repayments by November 2008.

The World Bank would not comment on President Conté's decision to appoint a new prime minister. IRIN contacted bilateral donors but they said they were still waiting to see who will be appointed to the new cabinet.

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Theme (s): Conflict, Early Warning, Governance, Human Rights,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]

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