West African leaders impose arms embargo on Guinea

West African leaders said Saturday they are imposing an arms embargo on Guinea after soldiers there fatally shot pro-democracy demonstrators and will try to stop Guinea’s military ruler from running in January’s presidential election.

Regional leaders attended an emergency meeting Saturday of ECOWAS, the Economic Community of West African States, and said at a news conference afterward that they would step up pressure on the ruling junta members not to seek office.

Capt. Moussa “Dadis” Camara seized power in a coup last December. He initially said he would not run in the January elections, but recently indicated that he may have changed his mind.

A peaceful pro-democracy rally on Sept. 28 took a violent turn when Guinean presidential guard troops opened fire on tens of thousands of demonstrators. A Guinean human rights group says 157 people were killed. The government put the death toll at 57.

“In view of the atrocities that have been committed, and the steps taken by the CNDD (Guinean government) authorities to acquire new weapons, the authority decides to impose an arms embargo on Guinea,” said Mohammed Ibn Chambas, president of the ECOWAS commission.

The violence in Guinea has drawn widespread condemnation, with U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton calling for Camara to apologize and step down.

The International Criminal Court on Thursday announced a preliminary investigation into last month’s violence, and the United Nations has said it is establishing an international commission to look into the attack.

The African Union also has urged Camara to confirm that he will not run in the country’s Jan. 31, 2010 elections and called for the release of demonstrators who were detained.

Chambas said that ECOWAS would direct its mediator, Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore, to ensure that “those who hold high offices in the transitional authority will not be candidates in the forthcoming presidential elections.”

“All steps must be taken immediately to stop the spate of killings of innocent Guineans who are yearning for immediate restoration to constitutional order so that the country can settle down effectively to implement the transition program agreed on,” Nigerian President Umaru Yar’Adua told the regional leaders.

Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.