Protesters burned tires and threw stones at police in Guinea’s capital Conakry on Monday in the first of a series of planned demonstrations against a possible change to the constitution that could let President Alpha Conde seek a third term.
While the number of protesters in demonstrations scattered across the capital was low, the security services were out in force, breaking up makeshift barricades and making some arrests.
The National Front for the Defense of the Constitution, the coalition group that called for the demonstration, said six of its leaders were detained over the weekend and it demanded their release.
The group, anticipating a crackdown by security forces, encouraged youth to protest in their districts instead of gathering all in one place. It also called on security forces, which have had a history of violence, to show restraint.
“We are appealing to all our brothers and sisters in uniform to stand on the side of the truth defended by the people of Guinea, whose exalted task they are to defend in all circumstances,” it said in a statement that encouraged peaceful opposition to a constitutional amendment “for the sole purpose of maintaining a person in power for life.”
Conde is a former opposition figure who in 2010 became the West African state’s first democratically-elected president, but his tenure has been marred by a crackdown on protests.
His second and final five-year term expires in 2020 but the 81-year-old leader has refused to rule out running again and asked his government last month to look into drafting a new constitution.
Two demonstrators were hit by gunfire from the security forces, according to opposition leader Cellou Diallo’s chief of staff, Nadia Nahman, and a resident called Alpha Balde.
Government official Souleymane Camara said the authorities could not immediately verify the report and were investigating.
Political protests, labour strikes and demonstrations against bauxite mining companies in the West African country often turn violent.
The security forces blocked the opposition leaders who had called for the demonstrations from leaving their homes on Monday morning and detained civil society leaders over the weekend.
Conde’s first election win in 2010 ended two years of military rule and raised hopes for democratic progress in Guinea, which was governed by President Lansana Conte for nearly a quarter of a century until his death in 2008.