Burkina coup supporters, soldiers storm talks

2015-09-20 20:15
A local market in the city of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. (Theo Renaut, AP)

A local market in the city of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. (Theo Renaut, AP)

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Ouagadougou - Pro-coup demonstrators and elite presidential guard members in Burkina Faso on Sunday stormed a hotel hosting talks aimed at restoring civilian rule, and attacked participants, witnesses said.

The violent incident threatened to torpedo efforts by regional mediators to peacefully roll back last week's military putsch and salvage an October presidential election.

The October 11 vote is meant to mark a return to democracy after unrest toppled President Blaise Compaore last year when he tried to extend his 27-year rule. The uprising became a beacon for democratic aspirations in Africa at a time when veteran rulers from Rwanda to Congo Republic are seeking to scrap term limits.

Members of the presidential guard (RSP), some wearing balaclavas hiding their faces, burst into the Leico Hotel in the capital Ouagadougou brandishing assault rifles, pistols and shotguns as participants arrived for the talks.

They were accompanied by civilian protesters, some carrying signs expressing support for an RSP-led military junta, which interrupted a cabinet meeting on Wednesday and took the interim president, prime minister and several ministers hostage.

"They invaded the hotel. It was violent," said a Reuters witness. "They attacked ex-opposition members as they arrived. One had to be saved from the crowd by security forces."

A number of high-level participants in the talks, including foreign ambassadors, were inside the hotel when it was stormed.

"I am with my colleagues. We are okay. We have not been taken hostage. We are free," France's ambassador to Burkina Faso Gilles Thibault said via his Twitter account.

The US embassy in Ouagadougou also announced that its ambassador was safe.

Consultations continued

Senegal's President Macky Sall, the current chair of West Africa's regional bloc Ecowas who is leading the mediation efforts, continued his consultations and was expected to announce his proposals later in the day.

Benin's President Thomas Boni Yayi, who had been mediating alongside Sall, said on Saturday that Sunday's talks were expected to lead to the reinstatement of President Michel Kafando's interim government.

It was unclear however whether Sall would succeed in bridging the gap between the junta led by General Gilbert Diendere, Compaore's right hand man, and political parties and civil society groups that backed the ex-president's ousting.

Highlighting a wide gulf in expectations, in a proposal to mediators seen by Reuters on Sunday, Diendere put his own name forward to head a new post-coup transition.

Diendere has claimed he carried out the coup over plans to disband the presidential guard and because several of Compaore's allies were barred from taking part in the polls.

Under his proposal submitted to mediators late on Saturday, all military matters would be handled internally by the army and the law excluding pro-Compaore candidates would be repealed.

Anti-coup demonstrators erected barricades in neighbourhoods across Ouagadougou on Sunday, braving the presidential guard's attempts to break up gatherings of protesters.

"Our country calls us, comrades! We must paralyse Ouagadougou by any means," Smockey Bambara, a leader of the civil society group Balai Citoyen (Citizen's Broom), wrote in a Facebook post.

A Reuters witness saw presidential guard soldiers set light to pile of motor scooters on the street as part of efforts to limit the mobility of demonstrators.

Businesses remained closed and sporadic gunfire could be heard throughout the capital.

The junta has so far failed to gain nationwide traction for its coup, and outside the capital on Sunday, including in the second largest city Bobo-Dioulasso, people opposed to the putsch demonstrated without the interference of security forces.

Read more on:    ecowas  |  burkina faso  |  west africa

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