By Saliou Samb
CONAKRY (Reuters) - Guinean President Alpha Conde has ordered a judicial inquiry into unrest that has killed at least 12 people in the past week in an apparent effort to defuse protests against preparations for a long-delayed election.
Investor confidence in the world's top bauxite exporter has been undermined by repeated clashes since March pitting police and supporters of Conde against opposition demonstrators who fear the election outcome will be rigged.
Conde replaced his security minister with a career policeman to try to contain the violence in Conakry, the West African state's seaside capital, that has killed more than 50 people over the past three months.
In an address on state television late on Tuesday, Conde, who has been in Ethiopia attending an African Union summit during the most recent clashes, said he had cut short his trip to return to Guinea and deal with the crisis.
"I stress the fact that violence is unacceptable, highly irresponsible and reprehensible," Conde said.
"I have asked the justice minister to immediately take the necessary steps to set up a panel of judges exclusively tasked with shedding light on recent events and rendering justice for all the victims."
The election is meant to complete Guinea's return to civilian rule after a military coup in 2008. Initially due to be held in 2011, it has been delayed repeatedly by disputes between the government and opposition over their organization.
Former colonial power France, echoing growing concern within the international community, said on Wednesday that it was "deeply worried" by the worsening violence.
"We call upon the Guinean authorities to show restraint and the leaders of the opposition to re-engage in dialogue so that Guinea can finally complete its democratic transition," French Foreign Ministry spokesman Philippe Lalliot said.
Opposition leaders temporarily suspended demonstrations this month to allow U.N.-brokered talks with the government to take place but called for the protests to resume last Thursday, accusing Conde of sabotaging the negotiations.
Since then, hundreds of police have been deployed to Conakry districts inhabited by ethnic Peuls loyal to the opposition, without succeeding in restoring calm.
The opposition is demanding that Waymark, a South African firm contracted to revise voter lists for the planned June 30 election, be replaced and for Guineans abroad to be allowed to cast ballots.
The opposition accuses Waymark of packing the electoral rolls with inflated numbers of voters from Conde's Malinke ethnic group, something which the company has strongly denied.
(Additional reporting by John Irish in Paris; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Alison Williams)