At least 24 people were injured when members of Guinea’s rival political parties began throwing rocks at each other after a campaign event, said a party official and a doctor at the hospital where the injured were being treated.
The brawl is one more sign of escalating tension ahead of next week’s historic election, which many hoped would mark a turning point for the troubled country that has known only authoritarian rule since winning independence from France in 1958.
Guineenews.org, a popular news portal, reported that clashes erupted in several parts of the capital, Conakry.
It reported clashes near opposition leader Alpha Conde’s home in the neighbourhood of Mafanco, as well as near the Rally of the Guinean People (RPG) headquarters in Hamdallaye and in the ’quartier populaire’ of Dixinn.
Each party blamed the other for starting the battles.
Souleymane Diallo, a spokesman for the Union for the Democratic Forces of Guinea, or UFDG, said their female supporters were returning from a meeting when supporters of the opposing Rally of the Guinean People, or RPG, began throwing rocks at them. Witnesses say a brawl broke out.
“We were coming back from a meeting of pro-UFDG women which had been held at the presidential palace, when a group of people started throwing rocks at us,” said UFDG supporter Marietou Balde.
"We started throwing rocks back at them, and it degenerated. People were injured.”
RPG supporter Morifing Kaba, however, said the first stones were thrown by partisans of the UFDG.
She said they were attacked by rock-throwers at the party’s headquarters, where supporters gathered for a campaign event.
A doctor at Donka Hospital, who asked not to be named because he is not authorised to speak to the press, confirmed that 24 people were brought in with injuries, including open gashes.
Cellou Dalein Diallo, the UFDG candidate and a former prime minister, received 44% of the vote during the first round of voting in June.
On September 19, he is facing off against the RPG’s Mr Conde, an ageing university professor and longtime opposition leader who got 18% during the first voting cycle.
Tension between the two is rooted in Guinea’s ethnic divide, which has always hovered just below the surface of the country’s politics.
Mr Diallo is a Peul, the country’s largest ethnic group, which has never had one of its own in power. Last year, the Peul were explicitly targeted during an army-led massacre of opposition supporters inside the national football stadium.
Women that had Peul features were dragged to the ground and raped, said survivors including women who were from other ethnic groups and who said that they tried to convince their aggressors that they were not Peul.
Although Mr Conde spent decades as a figure of the opposition, he is a Malinke - a group heavily represented in the army, as well as in the junta blamed for the September 29 massacre.