CONAKRY, Guinea — Anti-riot police on Friday dispersed protesters in the Medina market of Guinea's capital, after a riot broke out between sellers from the Peul and Malinke ethnic groups, the two largest ethnicities in the country, according to witnesses.
By afternoon, the riots had spread to other parts of the city and in Peul-dominated areas of the capital, residents were stopping taxis and yanking out Malinke passengers. There are similar reports in Malinke areas, where Peul passengers were suddenly not being allowed in.
In this country of around 11 million people, the Peule make up about 40 percent of the population and the Malinka 30 percent, according to U.S. State Department figures.
Tensions between the two groups have been running high ever since the 2010 presidential election, which was won by Malinke politician Alpha Conde. He defeated a Peul candidate, and the vote was overwhelmingly carried out along ethnic lines. Since coming to power, Conde is accused of favoring his ethnic group in appointments to government ministries, all the way down to the guards and janitors.
On Friday, an AP reporter saw police fire tear gas to try to break up the protesters at the Medina market. The two ethnic groups carry out different activities in the market, with the Malinke concentrated in the area selling spare automobile parts, while the Peul sell clothes and food.
Moussa Yero Diallo, a Peul, said he saw cars being stopped all along Prince Boulevard, the main thoroughfare that bisects the predominantly-Peul suburbs of Bambeto, Cosa and Enco-5 in Conakry.
"On the axis Bambeto to Cosa and all the way to Enco-5, youths are demonstrating and are blocking taxis and saying that only the Peul passengers can travel on Prince road. If you are not Peul, you are forced to get out of the car. They say they are doing this because they have been told that Malinke youths are blocking vehicles on the freeway, where they are forcing Peul passengers to get out and are stealing their things," said Diallo, who lives near the intersection of Prince Boulevard and Bambeto.
Oumar Diallo, who is also Peul, said that he was forced to get out of the communal taxi he was riding in.
"This morning near the Medina market, I was in a taxi when they recognized that I am a Peul. A bunch of youths speaking the Malinke language told me to get down. They hit me, they stole my money and my phone. I thought I was going to get lynched by these Malinke youths, who are hunting down Peul," said Diallo.
Guinea won its independence from France in 1958, and was under the hold of successive strongmen until the 2010 election, considered the first democratic vote in the country's history. The vote was widely praised by the international community, despite the ethnic fault line that became evident during riots leading up the vote, and in protests following the announcement of Conde's victory.
The country has one of the world's largest supplies of bauxite, the raw material used to make aluminum, as well as reserves of gold and virgin stands of timber. It's often cited as an example of Africa's "resource curse," because its rich mineral wealth contrasts with the endemic poverty of its people.
© Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.