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Former mutineers 'ready to take up arms again'

Video by Emmanuelle SODJI , Nicholas RUSHWORTH

Text by News Wires

Latest update : 2011-04-25

Watch FRANCE 24’s exclusive interview with a former mutineer in Burkina Faso who suggests angry soldiers may once again take up arms against President Blaise Compaore if their demands are not met.

AFP - Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore needs to take urgent steps to avoid a revolt like those that toppled the leaders of Tunisia and Egypt, observers say, amid weeks of protests.

Compaore, who took power in a coup in 1987, has been confronted by a series of unprecedented demonstrations over the past two months, including a chaotic army mutiny and student riots against police that left several dead.

"He is cornered, he must review a lot of things, solve problems at their root," said Dieudonne Zoungrana, a commentator at the independent daily newspaper L'Observateur Paalga.

Steps already taken by the 60-year-old leader were not sufficient to quell the discontent, Zoungrana said, after the president ordered the payment of bonuses to soldiers, dissolved his government and fired military chiefs.

Other protests that have shaken the coup-plagued and destitute west African country since February have been staged by magistrates, shopkeepers, the opposition, unions and civil society.

They come amid rising costs in the cotton-producing nation where around half the 16 million residents live on less than 1,000 CFA francs (1.52 euros) a day.

The most alarming protest perhaps was the one by soldiers that erupted from inside Campaore's presidential guard on April 14 and spread into the capital and out to the provinces, with mutinous troops going on the rampage for days in several towns.

The troops were demanding their March wages and housing and food allowances, which the authorities began paying out on Saturday as the rioting started to calm.

In the capital Ouagadougou they took to the streets, opening fire in the air, looting shops, stealing cars and destroying property. Rapes were reported and dozens of people were wounded.

The violence provoked anger from the public, with youngsters and traders staging a counterprotest in which they attacked public and ruling party buildings.

"Even with double its budget, the state cannot pay back the businessmen," commented one of those who suffered losses in the pillaging.

The soldiers said they were not targeting the Compaore regime, and this week declared their loyalty to the president on state television, but one would have to be "very clever to convince anyone that this does not have a whiff of politics," Zoungrana said.

When there is a mutiny in the entourage of the head of state, "it is worrying," added leading civil society activist Charles Sorgho.

"Today the situation is critical enough. One wonders if it could not worsen, to the total overthrow of the regime," said Sorgho, from the pro-democracy and good governance group Gerddes-Burkina.

"Like in the Maghreb, we have to expect anything," he said referring to revolts that rocked the Arab world this year, ending the long-standing regimes of Tunisia's Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Egypt's Hosni Mubarak.

In Burkina Faso, "there is an abyss between the rich minority, who are mainly in the presidential entourage, and the rest of the population -- civil servants, small traders, farmers, labourers -- while everything has become expensive," he said.

The recent civilian and military protests were based on demands that should not be ignored and were similar to those from which were born the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions, the L'Observateur Paalga warned Tuesday.

The demonstrators pointed to "a reality: a crisis of the state and governance", the paper said.

To avoid a revolution that could cost him his job, Compaore must take urgent steps to increase civil service salaries, stabilise costs of basic commodities and restore discipline in the army, Sorgho said.

Sorgho is meanwhile campaigning to prevent a change in a two-term lock on the number of mandates a president can serve as the ruling party plans to revise the constitution to allow Compaore to stand again in 2015 -- a step that has ignited strong debate.

But, said Zoungrana, "there is no vacancy at the Kosyam," the seat of the presidency.
 

Date created : 2011-04-24

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