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Soldiers Fire in Protest Over Back Pay

February 2, 1996

CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) _ Soldiers demanding back pay and the firing of the defense minister went on a shooting rampage Friday, killing at least eight civilians. State radio reported a coup was imminent.

The president sacked Defense Minister Col. Abdourahmane Diallo, who the soldiers claim denied them raises and promotions. President Lansana Conte also went on state-run national radio, asking the soldiers to meet him at an army camp for talks.

The radio announced a coup was imminent at about 1 p.m. and played music for the rest of the day. People stayed in their homes and offices. A curfew was in place and the airport was closed. The main road leading the center of the capital was blocked off.

``There are soldiers on the streets and in cars, shooting randomly out of the windows and in the air,″ said Deborah Grieser, acting public affairs officer at the U.S. Embassy in Conakry.

She said the president’s comments on the radio indicated there were two groups of soldiers, one on strike and the other plotting a coup. She quoted Conte as saying: ``For those of you who were interested in taking power: Get off the streets.″

Conte has ruled this West African country, one of world’s poorest, since he seized power in a 1984 military coup. He won in the country’s first elections in 1993. But the elections were marred by violence, missing ballots and accusations that the government discounted the votes of political exiles.

The uprising follows coups in two other West African countries. The president of Niger was ousted in a bloody coup on Jan. 27. On Jan. 17, the military ruler of Sierra Leone was ousted by army officers six weeks before planned elections to transfer the country to civilian rule.

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