|Security forces carried out a bloody crackdown on opposition protesters in 2007 [AFP]
Since Guinea won its independence from France in 1958, the country has remained in the hands of a ruling elite.
Though the country is rich in diamonds, gold and iron and contains half the world's reserves of the raw material used to make aluminium, the people remain some of the poorest in the world.
The recent bloody events in Conakry, the capital, come months after a bloodless coup that many Guineans had hoped would usher in a period of change.
Captain Moussa "Dadis" Camara, Guinea's military leader, was largely unknown until he took power in December 2008, following the death of Lansana Conte, Guinea's strongman leader for 24 years.
Conte had been ill for a while and appeared to have no obvious successor.
Analysts warned the country would likely slip into chaos after his death.
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
A crippling nationwide strike in 2007 had thrown the country into two months of turmoil and a subsequent crackdown by security forces led to more than 130 Guineans being killed in clashes between police and anti-government protesters led by union bosses who said Conte was unfit to rule.
But within hours of Conte's death, Camara's men broke down the glass doors of the state television station and announced that the constitution had been dissolved and that the country was under military rule.
The announcement was greeted with some excitement, but as months went by, that began to ebb after Camara ordered raids on the homes of well-known members of the dead president's inner circle.
Camara said the raids were intended to recoup money and property stolen from the state, but many complained of heavy-handed tactics.
His military government also put top government officials on television, where they detailed their roles in a lucrative international cocaine trade in Guinea.
Like other West African countries in recent years, Guinea has emerged as key trans-shipment points for cocaine bound from South America to Europe.
Camara's arrests of corrupt officials won him admiration, but he has been criticised for his love of the spotlight and his insistence on broadcasting long, rambling tirades.
He reportedly sleeps for much of the day and has a waiting room adorned with 1.8-metre-tall portraits of himself.
In August, police fired tear gas to break up a demonstration in Conakry, and in September tens of thousands of residents in a town north of Conakry took to the streets with no serious incidents.
Guinea had expected to hold election in 2007, a concession agreed to by then-president Conte as a measure to end the strikes. But the polls were delayed several times.
Camara promised elections in January and said he would not run, but recent comments that he had the right to run if he chooses have led some to suggest he intends to stand.
On September 28, 2009, soldiers fire into a crowded stadium where demonstrators had gathered, many calling for "true democracy" and railing against what they said was Camara's intention to run for election.
A human-rights group report said that over 150 people were killed in the incident. Camara said the violence was beyond his control.
Guinea's military leader now faces strong international pressure to step down.