A dozen candidates were given the go-ahead on Wednesday to contest presidential elections next month in Guinea, where 82-year-old incumbent Alpha Conde is seeking a controversial third term.
Approval by the constitutional court marks a key step towards polling day on October 18 in one of Africa’s most volatile countries.
The elections have already been overshadowed by a row over the president’s future, and a split that emerged on Wednesday within anti-Conde ranks is set to add to the tension.
The court approved 12 applications that had been filed by the Tuesday midnight deadline, excluding a 13th bid, submitted by a minority candidate, on medical grounds.
Conde this year pushed through a revamped constitution that opponents say was crafted to get around a two-term limit for presidents.
Last week he ended months of speculation by confirming that he would seek a third term despite protests in which dozens have been killed.
The National Front for the Defence of the Constitution (FNDC), an anti-Conde coalition of parties, labour unions and civil society groups, has been campaigning against the revision which it has denounced as a constitutional coup.
The FNDC on Wednesday said that it was removing figures who had decided to run in the election from the group.
These include former premier and leading opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo, 68.
The FNDC’s coordinator, Abdourahmane Sanoh, said the organisation “took note” of any decision by its members to take part in the election on October 18.
“This decision obviously results in their intentional withdrawal from the movement,” he told the press.
– Deadly crackdown –
Under Guinea’s constitution, presidents may only serve two terms.
But the new constitution, approved in a referendum, provided Conde and his party with the argument that the presidential term counter had been reset, entitling him to run for a third term.
Protests against Conde’s suspected plans erupted in October last year but were met with a ruthless crackdown, and several dozen people have died.
The exact number of dead is unclear — the FNDC said Wednesday that 93 people had been killed and hundreds injured and imprisoned.
Conde is a former opposition figure who was jailed under previous regimes.
The West African state is rich in minerals but plagued by entrenched poverty and a history of instability since it gained independence from France in 1958.
Hopes of a new political dawn flowered when Conde became Guinea’s first democratically-elected president in 2010.
But critics say he has become increasingly authoritarian, resorting more and more frequently to crackdowns to quell dissent in his second term.