Guinea expected to announce referendum on constitution

Guinea is expected to announce shortly a date for a referendum on a new constitution, a government official has said, despite months of mass protests against the move.   

Hundreds of thousands of people have protested in the West African state since mid-October over concerns that President Alpha Conde intends to use a planned constitutional reform to extend his mandate.

At least 23 civilians and one gendarme have been killed in the protests to date, according to an AFP tally.

An official close to Guinea’s presidency, who requested to remain anonymous, told AFP that a referendum on the new constitution could take place at the same time as legislative elections set for February.

Cabinet ministers have also suggested that the president “fix an appropriate date for the referendum,” according to a government statement on Thursday. 

The statement added that “the electoral calendar will be decided by presidential decree”.

Conde, 81, published a draft constitution last month, arguing that the colonial-era laws needed to be changed. 

But his adversaries are convinced he plans to use the reform to stay in office beyond the two presidential terms currently stipulated in the former French colony’s constitution. 

The president has neither confirmed nor denied that claim.

Tensions between opposition figures and Conde have been increasing. 

Opposition parties have promised to prevent legislative elections in February from taking place. 

The main coalition of opposition groups behind the protests has also called for open-ended demonstrations and urged companies to suspend activities in the country. 

Three civilians were shot dead in the central city of Labe on Thursday in clashes with security forces. 

Conde is a former opposition figure himself who became Guinea’s first democratically elected president in 2010. 

On Thursday, he asked his ministers “to take all the necessary steps to restore calm and security” in areas of the country where there has been “disorder, looting and vandalism”.