Five young children perished in an arson attack during clashes in central Guinea on Tuesday, as anger over alleged fraud during weekend local elections turned deadly and tensions mounted ahead of the results.
Sunday’s local elections were the first since the end of the era of military dictatorship and follow eight years of delays blamed on a lack of funds, political infighting and the 2013-16 Ebola crisis.
Huts and houses were set on fire in the town of Kalinko, and “five Guinean infants died in the flames”, Territorial Administration Minister Boureima Conde said on television on Tuesday, without specifying their age or identity.
Unrest flared in the West African country after the ballot, and one person was killed in western city of Kindia when opposition party supporters clashed with security forces during vote counting on Monday.
The UN’s special representative for West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, on Wednesday urged all sides to use legal channels to resolve their differences, and deplored “violence that has cost human lives”.
Chambas praised the “smooth running” of the election but said he was aware of “imperfections here and there”.
Opposition leaders have denounced the long-delayed local elections, saying vote rigging with proxy ballots occurred at several polling stations in favour of the party of President Alpha Conde.
Former prime minister Cellou Dalein Diallo, leader of the opposition Union of Democratic Forces of Guinea (UFDG), told the press on Tuesday his party had “all the proof of victory”.
“It’s up to Alpha Conde now, as president of the republic, to know what he wants. Because we cannot continue to accept hold-ups at the ballot box,” he said.
Presidential elections in 2010 and 2015 were also marred by violence and fraud accusations, as well as a legislative ballot in 2013.
Diallo said his party had stayed “calm” during those votes, but added “this time, for local elections, we have to mobilise”.
Activists have erected barricades in several neighbourhoods in the capital, Conakry, calling for the results to be published while accusing the ruling Rally for the Guinean People (RPG) of fixing the ballot.
Conde himself told supporters to “stay mobilised to reject fraud” after casting his ballot on Sunday.
Minister Boureima Conde said that while votes were being counted, with results due on Friday at the latest, “some candidates are declaring themselves victorious, which goes against our political agreements”.
Political distrust is high in Guinea, where ethnic tensions often turn deadly around election time.
The last local election was held in 2005 under the decades-long rule of authoritarian leader General Lansane Conte, who died in 2008.