Conakry (AFP) Jan 7, 2010
Talks began Thursday on who would be Guinea's new prime minister, after the military junta announced it was ready to share power with the opposition to end a crisis in the west African country.
The announcement by interim junta leader General Sekouba Konate late Wednesday was welcomed by the United States and the regional bloc ECOWAS on Thursday, and led one exiled opposition leader to say he would return.
Guinea has been under military rule since December 23, 2008, and tensions peaked last September 28 when troops massacred at least 156 people at an opposition rally.
In a speech to the junta, Konate invited the opposition to select the next prime minister ahead of the formation of a transition government, and called on opposition leaders who fled to return, saying he guaranteed their safety.
His announcement was met with caution and goodwill from the opposition which on Thursday was debating who should be the consensus prime minister and lead the country to elections, and what his or her powers would be.
"We need someone technically competent and politically mature," Bah Amadou Oury, vice president of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG), told AFP on Thursday.
For Rabiatou Serah Diallo, a trade union leader in the forefront of the struggle against the junta, "it would be ideal if the prime minister was neutral, if he had no political ambition".
"It's best if he comes from civil society, and we are categorical on this subject."
The African Encounter for the Defence of Human Rights, based in Dakar, said the best person for the job "would be a man of integrity from civil society, above all suspicion, to lead a transition that doesn't take long".
Its secretary general, Alioune Tine, said the new leader could be "a religious person, that would be the ideal".
Opposition officials met briefly at the home of Jean-Marie Dore, president of the Union for Progress in Guinea and spokesman of the Forces Vives (Active Forces), a coalition that includes the opposition, trade unions and civil society.
But they postponed a full meeting until Friday because "each party wants to go back to its headquarters to reflect," Oury said.
Trade union leader Serah Diallo said there was "clear will" to move the country forward.
"The government has set up three working groups, notably concerning the security of opposition figures returning from exile," she said.
There is also "a commission responsible for studying the claims of the work force and another charged with getting the administration up and running again".
Konate's initiative followed a week-long visit to Morocco, where the leader of the junta, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, is in hospital after being shot in the head by his aide de camp on December 3.
The United States on Thursday commended his announcement. "We welcome this new beginning and are pleased to see advance toward civilian rule," State Department spokesman PJ Crowley told reporters.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also said it was pleased.
It considered Konate's commitments were "constructive and of a nature to contribute to the restoration of trust between the people of Guinea, the Guinean authorities and the international community," the bloc said.
The announcement led opposition leader and human rights activist Mouctar Diallo to announce from Dakar that he would return home.
"I intend to return without delay, certainly by next week," Diallo told reporters.
Diallo, president of the New Democratic Force and a member of Forces Vives, was among those who had fled Guinea following the bloody September attack on the Conakry rally.
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