CONAKRY, Guinea — The leader of a coup paraded into Guinea's capital followed by several thousand soldiers Wednesday, hours after saying his group would hold power for two years. A crowd cheered him on, screaming "Long live the president!"
Capt. Moussa Camara stood in the first truck of a military convoy and waved to the throng that lined Conakry's streets. A phalanx of soldiers hoisting Kalashnikovs accompanied the parade.
It was the first time the capital's residents had ventured outdoors since the military-led coup was declared Tuesday in this broken West African nation.
Cautiously at first and then by the thousands, people poured into the streets to watch the convoy make its way toward the presidential palace.
"I came to see if the terrain is favorable to us. I see that it is," Camara told the electrified crowd.
The renegade army captain was unknown to most Guineans until Tuesday, when he and other members of the military announced the coup after the death of longtime dictator Lansana Conte. Initially the coup leaders promised elections within 60 days, but Camara broadcast another message Wednesday.
"The National Council for Democracy and Development has no ambition of staying in power," he said on state radio. "We are here to promote the organization of credible and transparent presidential elections by the end of December 2010."
Camara's group set a curfew from 8 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. throughout the country, where soldiers loyal to the coup plotters circulated in tanks and jeeps armed with rocket launchers.
Guinea's prime minister — in hiding since the coup was declared — said earlier Wednesday that the government remained in control. "This unknown captain doesn't control the army. The majority of the troops are still loyal — but one little group can cause a lot of disorder," Ahmed Tidiane Souare said by telephone.
Uncertainty remained about whether Camara's group controls all of Guinea. Camara said the government imported mercenaries to help regain power. Parliament leader Aboubacar Sompare — who constitutionally is next in line to be president — said the claim showed the junta's desperation.
But those in Conakry showing support for the army takeover said the constitution would only bring more of the same.
"Sompare is a continuation of Lansana Conte," said 49-year-old Cozy Haba. "I recognize that what we are doing instead is jumping into the unknown. But to me that's better than Sompare — who unfortunately I know too well."
Until Conte's death Monday night, Guinea had been ruled by only two people since its 1958 independence from France. Conte first took power in a 1984 military coup after his predecessor's death and then won elections in 1993, 1998 and 2003.
The ballots were marred by accusations of fraud. In 2003, Conte secured 95 percent of the vote, an improbably high tally for a man many say was unpopular.