Guinea president seeks extension of martial law
(Adds quotes, background, mediation mission)
By Saliou Samb
CONAKRY, Feb 22 (Reuters) - Guinea's President Lansana Conte asked parliament on Thursday to approve an extension of martial law imposed across the West African country 10 days ago to quell violent protests against his rule.
"We have received from the president a request for the prolongation of the state of siege. That is what we will be considering tomorrow," National Assembly President Aboubacar Sompare told state television.
Guinea's constitution requires parliamentary approval for an extension of martial law, originally decreed until Feb. 23 in reaction to a general strike and nationwide protests against the reclusive, diabetic president.
Strike leaders demand that Conte, who is in his 70s, cede power after 23 years in office. They relaunched their stoppage after he chose a close ally, Eugene Camara, as prime minister despite having agreed to name a consensus figure.
More than 120 people, mostly unarmed civilians, have been killed since the beginning of the year in clashes between security forces and protesters.
"Out of 33 districts, 30 have been looted, public and private belongings have been attacked and vandalised. Prolonging the state of siege is aimed at securing the population and their possessions," Sompare said.
He said the military would be consulted on the plan to extend martial law, which restored some calm to the former French colony but gave sweeping powers to the army and included a dusk-to-dawn curfew.
The unrest in Guinea has raised concerns that growing protests could shatter a fragile peace in the wider region, particularly in neighbouring Sierra Leone and Liberia, which are just starting to recover from civil wars.
Nigeria's former military ruler General Ibrahim Babangida led a delegation from the West African regional body ECOWAS to the coastal capital Conakry for the second time in a week on Thursday to push for a negotiated settlement.
"We have seen the effects of war in other countries. Guinea must not follow this example. The Guinean people must remain calm," Babangida told state television after meeting Camara.
He said he hoped to meet other parties in the dispute in the coming days.
The unions rejected a proposal late on Tuesday that Camara remain in place for a three-month trial period, saying such a move would fly in the face of widespread public opposition.
They are demanding a new prime minister and the lifting of martial law before they will end the strike, which has triggered food shortages in some parts of the capital and other towns around the world's top bauxite exporter.
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