Thousands protest power grab in Burkina Faso

2014-11-02 16:07
(Issouf Sanogo, AFP)

(Issouf Sanogo, AFP)

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Ouagadougou - Several thousand people gathered in the capital of Burkina Faso on Sunday to protest at the army's power grab after the turbulent ouster of president Blaise Compaore, as the international community demanded the military had over to civilian rule.

Mediators brandished the threat of sanctions if the army in the impoverished west African state refused to back down.

"We call on the military to immediately transfer power to civilian authorities," the US State Department after the army on Saturday declared military rule.

The UN envoy for west Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, told a news conference in the Burkinabe capital that he and African leaders had pressed the demand in a meeting with the country's top military brass.

If the army refuses, "the consequences are pretty clear", he said. "We want to avoid having to impose sanctions on Burkina Faso."

The military stepped into the power vacuum left after long-standing ruler Compaore stepped down on Friday following violent street demonstrations that some have likened to the Arab Spring.

Hundreds of thousands of protesters, furious at plans to extend Compaore's 27-year rule, massed on the streets of Ouagadougou on Thursday, some going on the rampage and setting parliament and other public buildings ablaze.

Under Burkina Faso's constitution, the speaker of parliament was supposed to step in as interim head of state following the president's resignation.

'Zida go!'

But the army instead named the second-in-command of the presidential guard, Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida, as the head of the transitional authority.

Zida said he was appointed to ensure a "smooth democratic transition" in the landlocked country and promised to consult with the political opposition and civil leaders.

But several thousand people joined a march against the military on Sunday after a call for action by the opposition and civil society leaders.

"No to the theft of our victory, long live the people!" said one banner. "Zida go!" "Zida is Judas."

The mediators from the United Nations, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States told Zida and other military leaders that civilian rule needed to be restored.

They "assured us that they had well understood the message", Chambas said.

But US State Department spokesperson Jan Psaki voiced international mistrust at the army's move, saying the United States condemned the its attempt to "impose its will" on the people of Burkina Faso.

"We urge civilian leadership to be guided by the spirit of the constitution of Burkina Faso and to move immediately towards free and fair presidential elections," she said in a statement.

Protesters gather

Opposition figures have said around 30 people were killed in Thursday's violence that hit the capital and at least one other city. AFP could confirm only four deaths.

Opposition and activist leaders had issued a statement after the army takeover demanding a "democratic and civilian transition" in the country of nearly 17 million people.

"The task of managing the transition falls by right to the people. In no case can it be confiscated by the army," the statement said.

Compaore and his wife have taken refuge in neighbouring Ivory Coast, after driving south out of their country in what one security source said was a convoy of 27 vehicles.

Ivory Coast's presidency and state media confirmed the ex-leader's presence.

Compaore was being put up in a luxury government mansion in the capital Yamoussoukro. An AFP reporter outside the iron-gated property spotted no movement inside, but an employee at a nearby upmarket hotel confirmed he had served the Compaores dinner and breakfast in the mansion.

Worst crisis in decades

The crisis in Burkina Faso - known as Upper Volta in its era as a French colony before becoming independent in 1960 and changing its name in 1984 - is the worst since a wave of unrest three years ago.

From March to June 2011, a wave of army mutinies swept the country, alongside public protests over high food prices, unemployment and the looting of property by troops.

Compaore was only 36 when he seized power in a 1987 coup in which his former friend and one of Africa's most loved leaders, Thomas Sankara, was ousted and assassinated.

In the manner of a number of sub-Saharan African leaders, he clung to power for the decades following, being re-elected president four times since 1991.

The uprising that finally forced him out was sparked by plans to change the constitution to allow Compaore to stand yet again for elections next year.

He leaves bitter disillusionment behind, however. Burkina Faso languishes at 181 out of 187 countries on the UN Human Development Index.

Read more on:    blaise compaore  |  burkina faso  |  west africa

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