Guinea has been inhabited since ancient times, but little is known about the region's early history. Portions of Guinea were dominated by the powerful medieval empires of Ghana, Mali, and Songhai. Portuguese traders first came in the mid-15th century. The English, French, and Dutch came later to trade for gold, ivory, and slaves. France established a protectorate in the mid-19th century. Fierce resistance to French occupation was crushed in 1898, and there was little opposition to French rule until a nationalist movement developed after World War II. Guinea was granted independence in 1958, but rejected membership in the French Community. Sékou Touré became the nation's first president and established a harsh dictatorship. He followed radical socialist policies, and the country's economy severely deteriorated, despite Guinea's receiving substantial aid from Communist-bloc nations. In 1984 Touré died, and military officers led by Colonel Lasana Conté seized control. Conté made himself president and ruled as a dictator. He encouraged the development of private enterprise and established ties with France and other Western countries. A new constitution approved by voters in 1990 provided for a transition to civilian rule and multiparty democracy. Voters elected Conté as president in 1993 and reelected him in 1998 and 2003. Conté stepped down in 2007 after a labor strike to protest against him turned violent.
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