Security forces carried out a bloody crackdown on opposition protesters in 2007 [AFP]

The death of Lansana Conte, Guinea's president for 24 years, has seen the army apparently move in to fill the political vacuum in the West African, which was once a rare bastion of stability in the region.

Some analysts had suggested prior to Conte's death that the country could slip into chaos after his death as there was no obvious successor to the long-term ruler, who had acted repressively to put down challenges to his control.

A crippling nationwide labour strike in 2007 threw the country into two months of turmoil before it was stopped by a crackdown by security forces.

More than 130 Guineans were killed in clashes between police and anti-government protesters led by union bosses who said Conte was unfit to rule.

Guinea's security forces shot, beat and robbed civilians during the ensuing two weeks of martial law, according to Human Rights Watch.

The International Crisis Group, a Belgium-based think tank, warned then that the crackdown could lead to a bloody military take-over, which in turn could escalate into a full-scale civil war.

Factbox: Guinea

Capital: Conakry
Population: 9.2 million (2006)
Languages: French and local dialects
Religions: Muslim (90 per cent), Christian and other local beliefs
Geography: Shares borders with Sierra Leone, Liberia, Senegal, Guinea-Bissau, Mali, Ivory Coast
 

In May 2008, soldiers revolted over pay concerns after Conte dismissed Lansana Kouyate, the prime minister, who had been installed as part of a deal to defuse the impact of the strikes.

The dispute quickly escalated to include demands for senior generals to be removed. 

Conte himself took power at the head of a military coup in 1984 when Ahmed Sekou Toure, the country's first post-independence president, died after 25 years of heavily centralised rule.

He brought in a new constitution in 1990, and instituted a multi-party system two years later. But despite this, he has kept tight control of the country.  

Conte was elected head of state in the first presidential election in 1993, winning a second term at the polls in 1998, when the opposition vehemently contested the outcome.

Alpha Conde, the leader of the main opposition Movement of the People of Guinea (RPG), was arrested at the end of 1998 and sentenced in September 2000 to five years in prison for treason.

He was granted a presidential pardon in May 2001, about six months before a referendum under which Conte oversaw constitutional reforms which would allow him to serve a third term.

The opposition called for a boycott of the vote, saying Conte was determined to become a "president for life", but in December 2003 Conte won his third term with 95 per cent of the vote.

Just days before Conte died, Ahmed Tidiane Soare, the prime minister, announced that parliamentary elections would be held in May 2009. 

The polls were originally scheduled for late 2007 as part of the measures to end the strikes, but they were delayed until December 2008 before being postponed again.

Open and fair elections are seen as an essential element for restoring political stability in Guinea.

Source: Agencies