CONAKRY, Guinea – Security forces on Monday arrested demonstrators and fired tear gas at those burning tires in the downtrodden suburbs of Guinea's capital, on the same day results from a tense presidential race were due to be announced.
Bands of youth from the Peul ethnic group hid in the alleyways and ran out to throw rocks at the police in protest of Malinke candidate Alpha Conde's apparent victory. Conde held a press conference Monday to tell reporters he was confident he had won.
The election last week should have been a moment of pride for Guinea, marking the nation's first democratic vote, but it has been overshadowed by ethnic tensions between the country's two largest ethnicities. The Peul are overwhelmingly supporting Peul candidate Cellou Dalein Diallo, while the Malinke back Conde.
Preliminary results had been promised by Monday and are expected to show Conde leading by a small margin. Partial results released so far indicate the race is extremely close with only 23,773 votes out of 1.9 million cast separating the two candidates in Diallo's favor.
On Sunday, Diallo declared he would not accept the outcome of the vote because the election commission has refused to throw out ballots from two contested provinces which were swept by anti-Peul riots in the days before the poll. Diallo said his supporters were too intimidated to show up to vote and his party could not even find representatives to oversee the counting of ballots.
If the votes from the troubled counties of Kouroussa and Siguiri in Guinea's far north are annulled, observers say there is a chance Diallo could win. However, Siaka Sangare, the president of the election commission, has said his office is only able to throw out results from precincts if there is evidence of fraud, and he has no means to verify the claims of intimidation.
Tires gave off an acrid, black plume at the mouth of the Hamdalaye neighborhood, a mixed suburb that includes households from both ethnicities. The rioting was polarized along ethnic lines.
A Malinke family said they were getting ready to have lunch when a group of Peul men attacked their house, punching out the windows and setting the mattress on fire. Its coils were poking out through the scorched fabric. In the living room, a poster of Alpha Conde adorned a wall, making clear the family's political affiliation.
"They said that if Cellou (Diallo) does not win that they will kill all the Malinke," said the 60-year-old owner of the house Moussa Dioubate. "I don't understand why we are trying to kill each other over an election ... It's barbaric."
Security forces began arresting the demonstrators in the afternoon, dragging them down the street and shoving them into the backs of their blue pickups. Among them was Ahmed Diallo, a young Peul man, who the police say was among those that broke into the Malinke house.
Once in the back of the truck, an officer took off his helmet, and began hitting Diallo with it, until his cheek started bleeding.
"Save me," he said, stuttering when he saw a reporter. "I had nothing to do with it. I was just walking by."
Human rights organizations worry that the street fights could degenerate and prompt the military — which has ruled Guinea for the past 26 years — to get involved. The army is said to be majority Malinke and they are blamed for a horrific massacre last year of protesters that had gathered at the national stadium to demand an end to military rule.
Women were gang raped by soldiers and there is evidence that officers singled out Peul women for sexual torture.
The red beret-wearing soldiers had vowed to stay in their barracks during the election to allow a specially trained, blue-uniformed security force, known as the Fossepel, to handle election-related violence. At intersections where tires burned, the Fossepel were sparring with protesters until a truck full of red-berets showed up.
A Fossepel commander asked them to leave. "Please do not shoot anyone. Please do not beat anyone. You should go back to your command post," he was overheard saying, before they drove off.
Associated Press writer Boubacar Diallo contributed to this report.