Hundreds of stone-throwing protesters clashed with police who fired teargas in the centre of Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou on Tuesday, Reuters witnesses said.
Opposition supporters tried to march on the National Assembly but were blocked by security forces who fired volleys of the gas canisters. Protesters burnt tyres and threw rocks during the clashes that centred around the United Nations roundabout.
The violence happened on the fringes of a march by tens of thousands of people calling for President Blaise Compaore to abandon plans to hold a referendum on changing term limits to allow him to stay in power.
Tuesday marks the start of a campaign of civil disobedience announced by opposition parties after the government asked the National Assembly to approve a referendum on changing the constitution to allow Compaore to stand for re-election next year, when he is due to stand down.
“The people have decided to start a general popular resistance. The first grievance is to get the withdrawal, pure and simple, of this legal project,” Zephirin Diabre, head of the opposition delegation, told the crowd.
Protesters chanted “Step aside!” and “Don’t touch Article 37”, referring to the clause in the constitution that needs changing to allow Compaore, who has been in power for 27 years, to stand again next year.
Compaore has positioned himself as a key leader in West Africa, where he has mediated in regional conflicts and is an important ally of Western nations in the fight against al Qaeda-linked Islamists.
But the move to change the constitution has divided the country, which remains one of the world’s poorest despite being a top regional cotton producer and home to a fledgling gold industry.