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Guinea opposition trial suspended as more protests erupt

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Protests have rocked Conakry and other cities earlier this month over Conde's bid to overturn term limits and run again

Protests have rocked Conakry and other cities earlier this month over Conde's bid to overturn term limits and run again (AFP Photo/CELLOU BINANI)

Conakry (AFP) - A Guinea court on Wednesday suspended the trial of eight opposition leaders accused of organising protests against President Alpha Conde, as fresh rioting broke out in the capital Conakry.

The opposition says at least 10 people have died in three days of deadly clashes during protests against Conde's push for constitutional reforms that critics say aim at letting him run for a third term.

The government late Wednesday put the death toll at nine, along with "many injured".

Conde, 81, became the poor West African state's first democratically-elected president in 2010. But critics say his rule has been marred by a growing crackdown on dissent.

The eight on trial belong to an alliance of unions, political parties and civil society groups called the National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC) which formed in April and has appealed for a massive turnout in rallies.

The tribunal's president suspended their trial on Wednesday at the request of the prosecutors, defence attorney Mohamed Traore said. The process was scheduled to restart on Friday.

Some shops had reopened in the Matoto district of the capital but protests continued in Hamdallaye, Cosa, Koloma, Lambanyi and Kobaya, according to witnesses.

"These young people are crazy, we are tired, we want them to go home, but it's impossible," said one police source.

Interior Minister Bourema Conde, referring to the death toll from the three days of clashes, said the unauthorised protests had caused serious material damage and led to "tragic consequences".

"Calm has returned throughout practically the whole country and the forces of law and order are striving to bring the situation back to normal in the areas where clashes continue," he said in a statement.

- 'Intimidations from those in power' -

The eight opposition leaders were arrested on Saturday and charged with making statements to disturb public order by calling for protests, according to the prosecution.

Authorities say the protests are illegal because they were not given formal permission.

Defence attorneys say the men will plead not guilty as the prosecutors have no proof they disturbed public order by calling for peaceful protests.

"These intimidations from those in power must stop, they will not force us to abandon the fight for democracy," opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo said Wednesday, demanding the prosecutions stop.

Conde has in the past drawn criticism over the police's deadly use of gunfire to quell demonstrations. About 100 people have been killed since he came to power, according to the opposition.

Earlier this month, opposition lawmakers decided to withdraw from parliament over Conde's reform bid.

Last month, the Guinean leader called on the public to prepare for a referendum and elections, raising speculation that he was planning to overcome the constitutional ban on a third term in office.