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West Africa leaders slap arms embargo on Guinea

West African states on Saturday ordered an arms embargo on Guinea over last month's massacre of unarmed opposition activists at a rally, an official statement said.

The Economic Community of West African States said at the end of a special summit that it had asked its chairman, Nigerian President Umaru Yar'adua, to take "all necessary measures" to obtain the support of the African Union, European Union and United Nations to enforce the embargo."In view of the atrocities that have been committed, and steps taken by the CNDD (junta) authorities to acquire new weapons, (ECOWAS) ... decides to impose an arms embargo on Guinea," said the leaders' statement.

The 15-country ECOWAS was under pressure to adopt a tough line against the Guinea regime in the wake of last month's deadly crackdown on the opposition by government soldiers.

The junta led by Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, who seized power last December on the death of longtime strongman Lansana Conte, has been roundly blamed for the shooting of dozens of protestors against his regime at a Conakry stadium on September 28.

Human rights groups say that at least 157 people were killed and 1,200 were injured, including many women who were raped by soldiers. The junta says 56 people died.

Camara also faces an African Union deadline to give a written pledge by midnight Saturday not to run in polls due in three months.

While Saturday's final communique made no mention of the AU ultimatum, ECOWAS Commission president Mohamed Ibn Chambas said the grouping subscribed to the pan-African body's position.

"We expect that Guinean authorities will not defy the AU because that's our common organisation," he said.

West African leaders fear the crisis in Guinea -- the world's top bauxite exporter -- could erupt into civil war and destabilise the region.

The summit urged its mediator, Blaise Compaore of Burkina Faso, to take steps to reopen dialogue with the aim of setting up a new transitional authority to organise elections speedily.

The regional bloc also discussed the situation in member Niger, where President Mamadou Tandja is clinging on to power depite calls for him to step down when his second term ends in December.

The leaders called for legislative elections planned for next week to be suspended indefinitely in favour of dialogue to resolve the country's political crisis.

They also imposed limited sanctions on Niamey, barring it from putting up candidates for posts in international organisations or hosting ECOWAS meetings.

Tandja defied all international, regional and domestic opposition to his plans to extend his stay in office beyond the two terms stipulated in the constitution, winning approval for his moves in a much-criticised referendum in August.

As the heads of state met, thousands of people rallied in Niamey to ask them to step up the pressure on Tandja to make him step down when his current term ends in December.

The protestors belonging to a variety of opposition groups staged a mass meeting in front of the parliament building, as police kept a low profile.

But in Conakry a source close to the junta said a rally planned in support of Camara Saturday had been called off.

"People persuaded Captain Dadis that it was inopportune," the source said.

The UN on Friday said it would launch a probe into the September 28 massacre, and the International Criminal Court in the Hague is also investigating.

"All steps must be taken to stop the spate of killings of innocent Guineans who are yearning for immediate restoration to constitutional order," said Yar'Adua.

"The message should be clear: ECOWAS will not compromise on issues of democracy, good governance and rule of law," he added.

The troubles in Guinea and Niger needed a "robust" solution "before they snowball into unmanageable tragedy," Yar'Adua said.

15 West African States that constitute ECOWAS : Benin, Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Ivory Coast, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone and Togo.

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