Loyalists today mourned Guinea's longtime dictator whose death has thrown the African nation into political turmoil, and a longtime aide asked people "to forgive the general for all that he did that was not good."
Mourners tried to push their way into Guinea's parliament where the eulogy was being held for Lansana Conte, prompting presidential guards to beat them back with belts. The service also was interrupted several times by mourners who wanted to enter.
Sitting in the front row was Facinet Toure, Conte's comrade-in-arms during the 1984 coup that brought the dictator to power. He later took the microphone and told mourners: "I ask the people of Guinea to forgive the general for all that he did that was not good."
Conte died Monday after ruling the West African nation with a stern hand for nearly a quarter-century. He was one of only two leaders since the country's 1958 independence from France.
Hours after the death announcement, a military-led group declared a coup. The group has promised to hold a presidential election in December 2010.
On Friday, thousands gathered outside Guinea's parliament, many dressed in white, the traditional Muslim color of mourning.
Attending the eulogy were the presidents of Sierra Leone, Liberia and Guinea-Bissau, as well as African Union commission chairman Jean Ping.
Conte's body was to be taken to a stadium later, and then to the Grand Mosque before interment in his village about 60 miles from Conakry.
Many Guineans grew up only knowing Conte's rule — he was one of only two leaders since the country's 1958 independence from France. Conte won presidential elections in 1993, 1998 and 2003 that were marred by accusations of fraud.
The most serious recent challenge to Conte's rule came two years ago as demonstrators called for him to step down and Guinea descended into chaos. Conte responded by declaring martial law and sent tanks into the streets of the capital. Security forces killed dozens of demonstrators.Reuse content