At least nine people have been killed in three days of protests in Guinea against the president's bid to extend his time in power, while hospitals are overwhelmed with scores of people wounded, a doctor told The Associated Press on Wednesday.
Some of the bullet wounds indicate that people were shot at close range, Dr Diallo Mamadou Bella said. He is volunteering to treat the more than 70 wounded protesters at a hospital in the suburbs of the capital, Conakry, where many of the protests have been taking place.
It is not clear how many people have been killed and wounded overall in the protests, which have drawn thousands of people into the streets. President Alpha Conde's mandate ends in December 2020 but he seeks a referendum to allow a third term in the West African nation of some 12 million people.
The National Front for the Defense of the Constitution, a coalition group, called for the demonstrations. Its leader, Abdourahmane Sanoh, and at least five others have since been arrested and were in court on Wednesday, charged with acts to compromise public security and disrupt public order.
"We will continue the struggle until they are released. We will not negotiate as long as they are detained," said Oumar Sylla Fonike Mengue, the acting spokesman for the coalition also known as the FNDC.
The group, anticipating a crackdown by security forces, had encouraged youth to protest in their districts instead of gathering all in one place. It had called on security forces, which have had a history of violence, to show restraint.
One opposition party spokesman, Ousmane Gaoual Diallo, blamed the government for the protesters' deaths. All the money spent to reform the security forces had been useless, he said. "Soldiers, gendarmes and police shoot Guineans, they kill like flies. It's a shame."
The counselor to Guinea's presidency, Souleymane Keita, said the nine protesters didn't need to die.
"This is something that could be avoided if the FNDC had agreed to dialogue, to sit around a table," he said. "I am sorry to know that nine Guineans, young people, die like this."
The 81-year-old Conde was elected to a five-year term in December 2010 in the country's first democratic transition of power since independence from France in 1958. He was re-elected in 2015. The government has warned against demonstrations as anger grew over the president's interest in holding a referendum to allow a third term.
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.
Amnesty International has said more than 100 people have died during protests over the past decade.