CONAKRY - Guinea's capital was on edge on Saturday following a botched assassination attempt on the head of the ruling junta, with residents bracing for further violence between out-of-control army factions.
Pickup trucks carrying heavily armed soldiers moved through the quiet streets of the normally bustling city searching for suspects in the attack, with shops open only part-time and most residents staying indoors.
The situation is very dangerous. If the president dies of his injuries, that could open the path to violent conflict in this country. This could even mean ethnic clashes, said Kemoko Kaba, a real estate broker in Conakry.
Guinea's mineral wealth has attracted billions of dollars in investments from international miners Rio Tinto, Anglo Gold Ashanti, and RUSAL -- none of which have reported any impact to operations from the instability.
Renegade soldiers on Thursday shot and wounded junta leader Captain Moussa Dadis Camara in a sign of divisions in the army since he took power in a December 2008 coup after the death of strongman leader Lansana Conte.
Camara was evacuated for medical treatment in Morocco and could require surgery due to multiple gunshot wounds, Burkina Faso President Blaise Campaore, whose presidential plane was used to transport Camara, said on Friday.
There was no public update on his health on Saturday.
Rising instability in the West African nation, the world's top supplier of aluminium ore bauxite that has moved from crisis to crisis in recent years, threatens to spill over into a region scarred by a rash of civil wars.
Residents of Conakry said an aura of fear had descended on the capital since the attack, with concern that Camara's death will trigger open hostility between military factions.
I've seen people previously hostile to Dadis who now say they hope he does not die. Everyone is afraid of that, said Maimanou Bah, a secretary in Conakry.
RULE BY GUN
Thursday's attack may have stemmed from heavy international pressure on Camara after a brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters on September 28 in which human rights groups said 157 people were killed and scores of women raped.
Camara's attempt to bring those errant soldiers to book triggered the assassination attempt by a leader within the renegade army group, Lieutenant Aboubacar Toumba Diakite, said Sebastian Spio-Garbrah, an analyst for Eurasia Group.
Toumba is cited by witnesses as leading the September crackdown on demonstrators, who had gathered in a Conakry stadium to protest against Camara's refusal to opt out of general elections that had been set for January 2010.
Despite initial reports that he had been arrested, Toumba was understood to be at large on Saturday.
I've seen people who are happy, and for them Toumba is a hero, said Souleymanne Bah, a street vendor. This is a strange sentiment because it was Toumba who was at the stadium when the soldiers killed people and raped women.
The situation highlights the vicious circle of harsh martial leadership and violent coups in the country -- which borders civil war-scarred Sierra Leone, Liberia and Ivory Coast -- that has tormented its citizens for decades.
After independence in 1958, Guinea entered 50 years of brutal rule dominated by the presidencies of revolutionary socialist Ahmed Sekou Toure -- during which tens of thousands of people disappeared or were tortured and executed -- and later strongman Lansana Conte.
Throughout the fractured history, a theme of military indiscipline and rule by the gun has held.
If you look at Guinea's history, it is only the army that has proven able to take the political process forward, said Tara O'Connor at Africa Risk Consulting.
So we need to look to the army for the next leader. We only hope they will be more malleable to affecting a transition to civilian rule than the military leaders of the past.
Camara's second-in-command, General Sekouba Konate, returned to Guinea Friday after a trip to Lebanon and was greeted by a large contingent of the army, a military source said.
(Additional reporting and writing by Richard Valdmanis; Editing by Matthew Jones)