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Guinea coup chief solidifies his hold

The new military leader ordered the prime minister and others out of hiding. Dozens more officials stepped down.

CONAKRY, Guinea - Guinea's coup leader solidified his hold over this impoverished West African nation as the prime minister who served under the late dictator surrendered and stepped down yesterday along with dozens of other government leaders.

While some welcomed the new military leader, Capt. Moussa Camara, as a break with the past, others worried that he would try to cling to power like Lansana Conte, the longtime dictator whose death this week touched off the political crisis.

Camara had ordered the prime minister, Ahmed Tidiane Souare, and other leaders of Guinea's government and armed forces to come out of hiding and turn themselves in at a military barracks within 24 hours. If they did not, he threatened to organize a nationwide search for them.

Souare's mother, Aissatou, said in a telephone interview that her son was no longer prime minister and that he and the other ministers had gone to the barracks to avoid being hunted down.

A private radio station, Liberte FM, carried a live broadcast of Souare telling the coup leader: "We are at your disposal." It reported that Camara said the government leaders were then free to leave, but it was not immediately clear where they were.

Later in the day, the head of all armed branches of Guinea's military, Gen. Camara Diarra, also turned himself in at the barracks, as did the heads of police and customs.

Souare had not been seen in public since Camara's group of junior officers declared a coup Tuesday, though he had claimed a day later to still be in control. Souare served under Conte, who died Monday after nearly a quarter-century in power.

Camara has declared himself Guinea's interim leader and pledged to hold a presidential election in two years.

But many in the international community say that is too long to wait. The European Union urged Guinea to hold "democratic and transparent" elections within the first three months of 2009.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy's office said France was "extremely worried" about the situation. Its statement said that free, fair elections "should be organized in a short time and under international observation." It urged a "peaceful, orderly and democratic transition."

In radio broadcasts yesterday, Camara said that he had no intention of being a candidate in the December 2010 vote but that his group wanted to reestablish order and crack down on corruption.

"I want to warn anyone who thinks they can try to corrupt me or my agents: Money is of no interest to us," Camara said. "There are already people who are starting to show up with bags of money to try to corrupt us. They've tried to give money to our wives and cars to our children."

Under Guinea's constitution, parliament leader Aboubacar Sompare was next in line to be president. Sompare's whereabouts yesterday were not known.

Some in Conakry said they were ready for a change from the previous regime. On Wednesday, throngs of people lined Conakry's streets to cheer Camara on as he led a military convoy parade to the presidential palace.

But in northern Guinea, about 500 miles from the capital, others expressed concerns about Camara's group, which initially said it would hold elections within 60 days.

"We are all worried," said Yahya Sako, a radio and TV repairman in the town of Siguiri. "Although I'm a little bit happy, I'm mostly anxious. Are these military people going to continue to hold on to power?"

Camara promised a "grandiose funeral" for Conte today. He died Monday, and Muslim custom calls for burial within 24 hours of death. Conte's body was to be brought to a Conakry stadium this morning and to the Grand Mosque before interment.