Thousands protest Burkina Faso army’s power grab


Thousands gathered on Sunday in the centre of Burkina Faso’s capital to denounce what they called a military coup, two days after mass protests forced President Blaise Compaore to resign.

Compaore’s 27 years in charge of the landlocked West African country ended on Friday when his bid to change the constitution to extend his rule was thwarted.

A power struggle ensued and on Saturday Presidential Guard commander Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida was appointed as transitional leader, superseding an earlier claim by the army chief of staff.

In Ouagadougou’s Place de La Nation on Sunday, opposition leaders denounced the power grab to the assembled crowds, while a U.N. official warned of possible sanctions if Zida obstructed a return to civilian rule.

The central square was the site of the violent demonstrations against Compaore, in which three people were killed and the parliament set ablaze.

On Sunday those gathered there turned their anger against Zida, a large bespectacled man little known outside military circles whose trademark is a red beret.

One citizen carried a placard saying “Zida = Judas” while another said “Zida – get out of here”.
“They are coming from Kossyam to enslave us,” said protestor Sanou Eric, in a reference to the Presidential Palace. “This is a coup d’etat. Zida has come out of nowhere.”
“I am here to stop the army from stealing our victory,” said another protestor, Boubacar Sow.

The head of the United Nations Office for West Africa joined the United States and the African Union in rejecting the army’s seizure of power but expressed cautious optimism about a return to civilian rule.
“We are hoping for a transition led by civilians in line with the constitution,” Mohammed Ibn Chambas said.
“He (Zida) said he will reflect and try to work with the U.N., African Union and the Economic Community of West African States and to find an acceptable agreement which conforms to the constitution,” he said, adding that sanctions were a possibility if there was no progress.

Under Burkina Faso’s constitution, the head of the National Assembly should take office if the president resigns, with a mandate to organise elections within 90 days. However the army has dissolved the legislature and suspended the constitution.

Events in Ouagaoudou are also being carefully followed by a generation of long-serving African leaders in Benin, Congo Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo who are also butting up against constitutional term limits.

The United States and other Western countries have urged leaders to respect their constitutions, although analysts say that external pressure to democratise may be governed by strategic interests.

Compaore, who seized power of the small, impoverished country in a 1987 coup, became a key ally of the United States and colonial power France in operations against al Qaeda linked groups in West Africa.

Washington, which could freeze military cooperation with Burkina Faso if it deems a coup took place, has urged a power transfer to civilian rule as soon as possible.