The ruling junta in Guinea commandeered the army on Wednesday in the face of fresh opposition protests, and threatened to apply anti-terrorism laws providing for up to life imprisonment against those responsible for a "crisis situation".
An AFP correspondent reported the presence of red berets and army vehicles and armour in the suburbs of the capital Conakry, where the opposition has called for two days of demonstrations on Wednesday and Thursday.
The call for demonstrations appeared to be poorly attended on the streets.
Internet monitoring service NetBlocks said on social networks that access to various platforms had been restricted.
The Minister of Territorial Administration, Mory Condé, said in a statement read on national television on Tuesday evening that the opposition demonstrations are the occasion of a "real urban guerrilla war" where the demonstrators, "with unprecedented violence, are reigning terror" and attacking the security forces with "lethal means".
"We have taken the legal responsibility by requisition (...) dated 15 May 2023 to request the assistance of the armed forces to support the police and gendarmerie forces who were in difficulty (to) maintain and restore public order," the statement said.
The minister brandished the threat of applying anti-terrorist laws which provide for life imprisonment against anyone who commits an act endangering the lives or freedoms of others with the intention of "intimidating, provoking a situation of terror, creating a feeling of insecurity among the population", exerting pressure on the state or creating "a situation of crisis among the population", according to the articles of the penal code read out on television.
The law applies to anyone who sponsors, finances or encourages such acts, the texts say.
Guinea is ruled by a junta that took power by force in September 2021 under the leadership of Colonel Mamady Doumbouya.
The military agreed under international pressure to hand over to elected civilians by the end of 2024, time to carry out deep reforms, they say.
The junta has arrested a number of opposition leaders and launched legal proceedings against others. It has banned all demonstrations since 2022.
The opposition denounces the authoritarian and, in their view, exclusive conduct of the so-called transition period that is supposed to precede the return of civilians. Attempts at dialogue and recent mediation by religious leaders have failed.
The opposition has called for demonstrations on Wednesday and Thursday to demand an end to "whimsical" judicial proceedings, the restoration of the right to demonstrate and the opening of a genuine dialogue under the chairmanship of the Community of West African States.
Previous demonstrations have resulted in several civilian deaths. In a country with a long history of political violence and autocratic regimes, the security forces have long been accused by human rights activists of excessive use of force and impunity.
The Minister of Territorial Administration blames the violence committed during the demonstrations under the junta on "certain individuals from abroad (...) with the support of certain political actors". He did not elaborate.
Former president Alpha Conde, who will be overthrown in 2021, and opposition leader Cellou Dalein Diallo, among others, have been abroad for several months.