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4 dead as Guineans protest president's bid to extend power

CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — At least four people have been killed in Guinea's capital after police fired tear gas and bullets Monday to disperse thousands of opposition supporters, civil society groups and trade unionists gathering in Conakry and across the country to protest the president's bid to extend his time in office, Guinea's Red Cross said.

President Alpha Conde's mandate ends in December 2020, but he is seeking a referendum to allow a third term in the West African nation. The four young men killed in Conakry Monday were all under the age of 24, Guinea's Red Cross said Monday, which also said 20 others were wounded by bullets.

Guinea's government said a gendarmerie was killed in Mamou, and only one person was killed in Conakry. Residents in the Wanindara district of the capital, Conakry, told The Associated Press that two young men were wounded by bullets shot by men in National Gendarmerie uniforms.

"Young people and gendarmes were fighting. The gunshots that hit them were fired from the van of these gendarmes. Both young people fell," said resident Ousmane Sow. He said one was hit in the foot and the other in the back.

Sporadic shooting could be heard in other suburbs. Demonstrators burned tires and barricaded roads as police deployed around the capital. Most businesses were closed and residents stayed indoors. Babanou Timbo Camara, a protester in the Matoto municipality, said police used tear gas and arrested a number of demonstrators.

Guinea's army chief of staff, Gen. Namory Toure, ordered soldiers to remain in their barracks. 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."

Amnesty International condemned the four deaths and said it feared there were more dead and arrested. "The use of lethal force against protesters and bystanders and the arrest of the protest organizers are a shameful attempt by Guinean authorities to stifle dissent by any means necessary. These acts should be investigated independently, and suspected perpetrators brought to justice in fair trials," Amnesty International's West Africa Researcher François Patuel said. "In an already tense political climate, today's killings and the arbitrary arrests of at least 14 people over the weekend are only adding fuel to the fire in a country where more than 100 people have died during protests over the past 10 years."

Conde was elected in December 2010 for a five-year term, the country's first democratic transition of power since independence from France in 1958. In 2015 he was re-elected. The government has warned against demonstrations.

"The Guinean Government, concerned about the social tranquility and security of citizens and their property, warns all troublemakers in any form of actions or interventions that attempt to undertake to harm," Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization Bourema Conde said in a statement last week.

Guinea's security forces have historically clamped down on demonstrations. While Conde's government has been more tolerant than past administrations, Human Rights Watch has said it has banned dozens of planned protests this year.

AP writer Carley Petesch in Dakar, Senegal contributed to this report.

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