CONAKRY, GUINEA // The African Union has suspended Guinea after a coup in the West African nation. The suspension will stand "until the return of constitutional order in that country," the African bloc said after a meeting of its peace and security council in the Ethiopian capital, where it is based. The military coup followed the Dec 22 death of Guinea's longtime dictator Lansana Conte after more than two decades in power. The coup leader, renegade army Capt Moussa Camara, said his group would hold power until elections in two years. It comes as coup leaders issued a declaration on state radio saying all military generals of the former regime have been demoted, raising the spectre of instability in the country. The demotions include more than 20 military heads, including those who ran the country's army, navy and air force. The list also includes security force chiefs. Coup spokesman Nouhou Thiam said the demotions were effective immediately and added that the military heads of the regime under Mr Conte would be reassigned to other jobs in the army.
The move comes amid questions about whether coup leader Capt Camara is able to control the plethora of military units created under Mr Conte's 24-year rule. Capt Camara's group seized public airwaves and declared a coup on Tuesday just hours after Mr Conte's death. Capt Camara's junta appears to be largely in control of Guinea, broadcasting on public airwaves, holding news conferences and meeting with foreign diplomats. But experts note that Guinea's military units are heavily armed and headquartered in different parts of the country, separated by bad roads and unreliable cell phone service. Since Mr Conte's death, the battalions are no longer under any central command and they could be centres for unrest, experts warn.
Another unknown is the status of the elite presidential guard. It was fiercely loyal to Mr Conte and is accused of executing dozens of demonstrators during massive protests against the regime two years ago. Capt Camara was unknown to most Guineans before declaring a coup Tuesday, but appears to enjoy broad popular support. Several thousand people, including top union members and opposition figures, turned out to see Capt Camara at his military barracks on Saturday. They gave him a standing ovation when he promised to let the people propose names for an interim prime minister and vowed to execute anyone who embezzles state funds.