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(New York) – Guinean security forces should immediately cease violent attacks on demonstrators protesting against the military government, Human Rights Watch said today.

Human Rights Watch called upon the government to hold accountable security forces responsible for firing upon and killing dozens of generally peaceful demonstrators in the Guinean capital, Conakry, on September 28, 2009. They were among tens of thousands of people protesting the rule of Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, who had seized power in a bloodless coup in December.

"The killing of dozens of unarmed protesters is shocking even by the abusive standards of Guinea’s coup government," said Corinne Dufka, senior West Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "Guinea’s leaders should order an immediate end to attacks on demonstrators and bring to justice those responsible for the bloodshed."

The protesters, demonstrating against Camara’s presumed candidacy in Guinea’s January 2010 presidential elections, took to the streets of Conakry on September 28 and marched to a 25,000-seat stadium to attend a political rally. Backed by security forces, the minister responsible for combating drug trafficking and serious crime, Capt. Moussa Tiegboro Camara (no relation to the president), told the protesters not to enter the stadium. However, his troops were unable to stop the demonstrators from forcing open the doors and flooding inside.

Police allegedly responded first by firing into the air, and then into the crowd. One witness told Human Rights Watch:

"At around noon, our [opposition] political leaders came to address the rally. Shortly after they arrived, the military started shooting. Our leaders didn’t even have a chance to speak. I saw the armed men shooting directly into the crowds and shooting in the air – there was tear gas and gunshots and total panic; we ran for our lives."

Eyewitnesses and medical personnel told Human Rights Watch that many of the bodies of protesters were riddled with bullet holes. Others had stab wounds from knives and bayonets. A number of women taking part in the demonstration were stripped naked and sexually assaulted by security forces, victims and witnesses said.

A second witness to the violence said:

"I saw the Red Berets [an elite unit within the military] catch some of the women who were trying to flee, rip off their clothes, and stick their hands in their private parts. Others beat the women, including on their genitals. It was pathetic – the women were crying out."

Another eyewitness said: "I saw several women stripped and then put inside the military trucks and taken away. I don’t know what happened to them."

Victims of the violence reported that there were so many people in the local hospital that they waited for hours without being treated. One young man who had been shot in the leg described the scene in the hospital: "I waited for treatment from just after 11 a.m. until 4 p.m., but there were so many other wounded, they didn’t even have time to treat me. I saw people dying in front of me."

Witnesses also spoke of widespread looting by members of the security forces; a few described how vehicles were stolen and possessions looted, including from the homes of opposition leaders.

The government on September 27 prohibited protests until after national independence celebrations planned for October 2, but a coalition of opposition activists decided to proceed with the demonstration they had planned for the following day. Some of the protesters reportedly engaged in violence against the police.

Security forces in Guinea have a history of using excessive and often unnecessary deadly force against demonstrators.

Guinea, resource-rich and desperately poor, has been plagued since independence in 1958 by authoritarian, brutal, and corrupt regimes. In December 2008, a group of Guinean military officers calling themselves the National Council for Democracy and Development (CNDD) seized power hours after the death of Lansana Conté, Guinea’s president for 24 years. The coup government’s nine months in power have been characterized by arbitrary arrests and detentions, restrictions on peaceful political activity, unpunished criminal acts by the military, and calls for vigilante justice.

Shortly after taking power, Camara pledged to hold elections in 2009 and promised that neither he nor anyone in the CNDD would run for president. After months of delay in organizing elections, and under mounting pressure from key foreign governments, Camara on August 17 set January 31, 2010 as the presidential election date. Shortly thereafter, he reversed his pledge not to run for office, a decision that added to his declining popularity.

"The coup government pledged to break with Guinea’s abusive past, but these deadly acts of repression and excessive use of force show how empty those promises were," Dufka said.

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