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CONAKRY, Guinea (AP) — At least one person was killed on Friday, as ethnic riots pitting the Peul and the Malinke, the two largest ethnicities in the country, spread from a market in Conakry, to the suburbs of the Guinean capital, according to witnesses and the Red Cross.
The trouble started on Friday morning in the Madina market where the market is divided along ethnic lines with the Malinke selling spare auto parts in a sprawling section next to the highway, while the Peul own small boutiques, which sell rice and condiments as well as second-hand clothes. Youths from the two groups began pelting each other with stones, and as the riot grew, anti-riot police fired tear gas to try to control the commotion. By afternoon, the riots had spread to other parts of the city. In Peul-dominated areas of the capital, residents were stopping taxis and yanking out Malinke passengers. In Malinke areas, Peul passengers were suddenly not being allowed in. An AP reporter saw the body of a Peul youth being brought to the morgue and Red Cross workers said he had died from a bullet wound.
In this country of 10.8 million people, the Peul make up around 40 percent of the population and the Malinke, 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.
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," he said.
Oumar Diallo, no relation, who is also Peul, said that he was forced to get out of the communal taxi he was riding in.
"This morning near the Madina market, I was in a taxi when they recognized that I am a Peul. A bunch of youths speaking Malinke told me to get down. They hit me, they stole my money and my phone. I thought I was going to get lynched," said Diallo.
At the Madina market, the Malinke auto parts sellers said that it was the Peul who started the violence.
Mory Kaba explained, "This morning we were sitting next to our spare parts, and we were making our tea, when people belonging to the opposition passed by in a car. They insulted (President) Alpha Conde. A few of them started throwing stones. And so we responded," he said.
Namory Condy, another spare part seller who is also Malinke, said: "The Peul — they think Guinea belongs to them. They provoke us and insult us. This morning we decided to get up and hit back against this provocation," he said.
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.