The Guinean opposition called on Saturday for the cancellation of a referendum on the amendment of the constitution, when new protests against the government of President Alpha Condé broke out in the capital Conakry.
Condéon announced on Friday that the referendum, originally scheduled for Sunday, would be postponed – perhaps two weeks – following mounting national and international criticism of the ballot.
The referendum will decide whether to adopt a new constitution, which includes a ban on female circumcision and the marriage of minors in the West African country.
But the proposal has sparked huge protests since October, fearing it may reset the presidential term limits – allowing Condé to run for a third term later this year.
The draft constitution would extend the presidential term to six years, which would eventually allow Condé, 81, to govern for another 12 years.
Opposition leaders have promised to continue the protests despite the postponement.
“The struggle continues until Alpha Conde leaves office under the current constitution,” said Ibrahima Diallo, a member of the FNDC alliance opposed to the new constitution.
“We will continue the fight until the complete withdrawal … of this new constitution which the people reject en masse,” he added.
Condé was elected in 2010 and re-elected for a final five-year term in 2015.
“A slight delay”
Speaking on national television, the president said on Friday that he was in favor of a “slight delay” due to “national and regional responsibilities”.
The delay concerns both the constitutional referendum and the legislative elections which were also to be held on Sunday.
Condé’s announcement follows criticism of the electoral process by several international organizations.
While Condé has not publicly announced a date for the new vote, a letter from the leader of the West African bloc ECOWAS, seen by AFP, said that the new poll should take place within two weeks.
Since October, protests around the reforms – led by the National Front for the Defense of the Constitution or FNDC – have sometimes become violent.
At least 30 demonstrators and a gendarme have been killed to date, according to an AFP count.
“Axis of democracy”
Wanindara, a suburb of the capital Conakry and an opposition stronghold, experienced some of the worst violence.
Many supporters of the Guinean opposition call the suburbs and the surrounding areas surrounding “the axis of democracy”. It is the “axis of evil” for its detractors.
Guinea’s main opposition leader Cellou Diallo said on Twitter on Saturday that “Alpha Conde’s postponement speech is more like a declaration of war against the opposition and the FNDC”.
The FNDC issued a statement calling for a new demonstration on March 5 and demanding that Condé “and his mafia clan” withdraw.
The United States also issued a statement on Saturday urging all parties “to enter into non-violent civil dialogue”.
A western diplomat in Conakry expressed skepticism that a vote in two weeks would be fairer. “It doesn’t change anything,” he said.
Sekou Conde of the ruling party said that “the postponement is purely technical”, referring to examples of sacked polling stations.
“It has nothing to do with the electoral lists,” he said.
But the International Organization of La Francophonie has reported problems verifying about 2.5 million of the 7.7 million names on the electoral lists this week.
The African Union canceled an electoral observation mission to Guinea on Friday, citing a “big controversy” on the board. The EU also questioned the credibility of the survey.
But Sekou Conde, speaking to AFP earlier this week, said the issue of voter lists was a “bogus debate” since the opposition had attacked him in previous elections which had received less criticism.
On Saturday, in opposition neighborhoods in Conakry, new protests broke out after the postponement of the elections.
Groups of young people blocked one of the city’s main arteries, Route le Prince, and threw stones at the security forces, who escaped in armored cars.
Wearing riot gear, gendarmes fired tear gas canisters from rifles or turrets equipped with vehicles, in the narrow dirt roads that started from the highway.
But an observer to the FNDC protests, who refused to be appointed for security reasons, said people were protesting because of the “gruesome project” of the new constitution.
“There have been too many deaths, too many arrests, too many serious injuries,” he said.
“People are determined to go all the way,” added the observer.