Guinean special forces seized power in a coup on Sunday, arresting the president and imposing an indefinite curfew in the west African country.
“We have decided, after having taken the president, to dissolve the constitution,” said a uniformed officer flanked by soldiers toting assault rifles in a video sent to AFP.
The officer also said that Guinea’s land and air borders had been shut and the government dissolved.
An earlier video sent to AFP by the putschists showed President Alpha Conde sitting on a sofa surrounded by troops. The 83-year-old leader refused to answer a question from one soldier about whether he had been mistreated.
Later Sunday, the junta announced a nationwide curfew “until further notice”, saying it would convene Conde’s cabinet ministers at 11am Monday.
“Any refusal to attend will be considered a rebellion,” the statement added.
The country’s governors and other top administrators will be replaced by the military, the statement said.
For their appearance on state television, members of the junta were wearing berets and dressed in fatigues, with no weapons apparent.
The nation of around 13 million people – one of the world’s poorest countries despite boasting significant mineral resources – has long been beset by political instability.
Earlier Sunday, residents of the capital Conakry’s Kaloum district, the government quarter, had reported hearing heavy gunfire.
One Western diplomat in Conakry who declined to be named suggested the unrest may have started after the dismissal of a senior commander in the special forces – provoking some of its highly trained members to rebel.
AFP was unable to independently confirm this account.
The head of Guinea’s military special forces, Lieutenant-Colonel Mamady Doumbouya, appeared on public television, draped in the national flag, saying government “mismanagement” prompted the coup.
“We are no longer going to entrust politics to one man, we are going to entrust politics to the people,” Doumbouya said.
“Guinea is beautiful. We don’t need to rape Guinea anymore, we just need to make love to her,” he added.
The US State Department condemned the putsch and warned it could “limit” Washington’s ability to support Guinea.
“Violence and any extra-constitutional measures will only erode Guinea’s prospects for peace, stability, and prosperity,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement, urging all parties to abide by the rule of law.
UN secretary-general Antonio Guterres condemned the coup in a tweet and called for Conde’s immediate release.
The chairman of the African Union, DR Congo President Felix Tshisekedi, and the head of its executive body, former Chadian prime minister Moussa Faki Mahamat, also condemned it, calling for Conde’s immediate release.
The Economic Community of West African States, through its acting president, Ghana’s leader Nana Akufo-Addo, threatened sanctions if Guinea’s constitutional order was not restored.
And EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell demanded “respect for the state of law, the interests of peace and the well-being of the Guinean people”.
A French foreign ministry statement also condemned the coup.
The putsch follows a long period of political tension in Guinea, first spurred by Conde’s highly contested bid for a third presidential term last year.
The day before the presidential election last year, the military blocked access to Kaloum after an alleged military rebellion east of the capital.
The coup plotters have announced a national committee for assembly and development and say the constitution will be rewritten.
Doumbouya also told French media “we are holding all of Conakry,” and that he had the support of all the defence and security forces.
News of the coup sparked celebrations in some parts of the capital, where hundreds of people applauded the soldiers.
“We are proud of the special forces,” said one demonstrator who requested anonymity. “Death to the torturers and to the murderers of our youth”.
The most recent presidential poll in Guinea, in October 2020, was marred by violence and accusations of electoral fraud.
Conde won a controversial third term, but only after pushing through a new constitution in March 2020 allowing him to sidestep the country’s two-term limit.
Dozens of people were killed during demonstrations against a third term for Conde, often in clashes with security forces. Hundreds more were arrested.
Conde was proclaimed president on Nov 7 last year – despite his main challenger Cellou Dalein Diallo and other opposition figures denouncing the election as a sham.
The government cracked down, arresting several prominent opposition members for their alleged role in abetting electoral violence in the country.
Conde, a former opposition leader himself who was at one point imprisoned and sentenced to death, became Guinea’s first democratically elected leader in 2010, winning re-election in 2015.
He survived an assassination attempt in 2011. In recent years however, he has been accused of drifting into authoritarianism.