Elite troops declare Burkina Faso coup
Burkina Faso’s presidential guard declared a coup Thursday a day after seizing the interim president and senior government members, as the country geared up for its first elections since the overthrow of longtime leader Blaise Compaore.
Lieutenant-Colonel Mamadou Bamba appeared on national television to declare that a new “National Democratic Council” had put an end “to the deviant regime of transition” in the west African state.
Announcing the coup, Bamba said that “wide-ranging talks” were being held to form a government leading to “inclusive and peaceful elections.”
Presidential guard members linked to ex-leader Compaore had burst into a cabinet meeting Wednesday and seized acting president Michel Kafando, prime Minister Isaac Zida and two ministers.
Zida was himself once an officer in Compaore’s powerful Presidential Security Regiment (RSP), before he toppled his old boss after days of street protests in October 2014.
Shots could still be heard Thursday in the capital Ouagadougou after the arrest of the nation’s transitional leaders triggered immediate street protests outside the presidential palace where they were being held.
Revolution Square — the epicentre of protests against Compaore — was empty apart from military patrols, with the streets of the capital also deserted.
Interim parliament speaker Cheriff Sy denounced what he said was a “coup d’Etat”, and in a interview with RFI radio Thursday called on the people to “immediately rise up”.
International condemnation was swift, with the United Nations Security Council and the European Union, one of the main donors to the poverty-stricken country, demanding the immediate release of the country’s transitional leaders, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressing his outrage.
President Francois Hollande of France — the former colonial power — joined the chorus of disapproval, calling for political order “to be restored”.
In a joint statement, the United Nations, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) demanded “the immediate and unconditional release of the hostages”.
Ban Ki-moon also said he was “outraged” by the developments. “This incident is a flagrant violation of Burkina Faso’s constitution and transitional charter,” he said.
– ‘Down with the RSP!’ –
Protesters marching on the presidential palace on Wednesday evening were met with bursts of gunfire, with shooting also heard around the complex Thursday.
Crowds of several hundred shouting “Down with the RSP” gathered with whistles and vuvuzelas near the palace after news of the move by the elite troops spread, with the headquarters of Compaore’s Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) party ransacked.
An AFP reporter who witnessed the protests said it was impossible to verify if anyone had been wounded.
Sy called the detention of the president and prime minister “a serious attack on the republic”.
“I call on all patriots to mobilise to defend the motherland,” he said, in comment late Wednesday.
Compaore fled into exile in Ivory Coast after an uprising triggered by his attempt to extend his 27-year rule.
A transitional government has been charged with running the nation until presidential and legislative elections are held, the first round of which was to take place on October 11.
Supporters of Compaore are banned from standing in the upcoming elections under a controversial election law passed in April, which made anyone who supported “unconstitutional change” ineligible to run.
Broadcasts by Radio France Internationale and the private Omega radio station were cut after members of the RSP “burst into the cabinet room at 2:30 pm and kidnapped the President of Burkina Faso Michel Kafando and Prime Minister Isaac Zida, and two ministers (Augustin Loada and Rene Bagoro),” Sy said in a statement sent to AFP.
Omega boss Alpha Barry told France 24 television that RSP troops had threatened to kill staff if they did not stop transmitting.
The country’s main trade unions launched a joint appeal “to observe a general strike throughout the national territory (…) against the RSP interference in politics and for a true democracy”.
The RSP sparked a brief political crisis in June by demanding the resignation of Zida, an army lieutenant-colonel and number two in the powerful regiment, who had publicly called for the unit to be dissolved in the interest of national security.
While the RSP’s demands were not yet known, it has repeatedly tried to disrupt the ongoing transition.
On Monday the country’s National Reconciliation and Reforms Commission had recommended that the 1,300-man force, considered the landlocked country’s best troops, be disbanded.
On the ground, the Balai Citoyen (“Civic Broom”) movement, which was at the forefront of last year’s anti-Compaore protests, called for protesters to gather to “say no to the coup d’Etat under way”, an appeal that was shared widely on social networks.
State television was broadcasting its usual cartoons and a football match. Its buildings have traditionally been guarded by the RSP.