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Burkina Faso cancels vote as protesters set parliament on fire

People stand in front of smoke rising from the Burkina Faso's parliament building in Ouagadougou
People stand in front of smoke rising from the Burkina Faso's parliament building in Ouagadougou ‏Issouf Sanogo, AFP | People stand in front of smoke rising from the Burkina Faso's Parliament in the capital Ouagadougou

Thousands of protesters stormed Burkina Faso’s parliament Thursday before setting it ablaze, witnesses said, forcing the government to cancel a controversial vote on revising the constitution to allow the country’s president to stand for re-election.

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Black smoke swirled in the air around parliament after demonstrators lit fires inside the building in the capital Ouagadougou, before looting computers and televisions screens and wheeling away police motorbikes, a Reuters reporter said.

The crowd then headed towards the presidency as a government helicopter flew overhead, shooting teargas at protesters. There were reports of gunfire coming from near the presidential palace.

Protesters also stormed and ransacked the building of the country's state television network, which went off air shortly afterwards, Reuters reported.

A handful of soldiers who were guarding the building shot in the air to try to disperse the crowds, but they continued advancing and the soldiers fled, a witness said.

At least one person died in the unrest, the AFP news agency said, but the circumstances of the death were not immediately clear.

Earlier, police had fired teargas and beat and arrested protesters as they tried to reach parliament, a Reuters photographer said. Hundreds of protesters burned tyres and set up makeshift barricades in response.

Officers in pick-ups pursued opposition supporters and cordoned off the area around the building.

But the protesters regrouped in larger numbers before surging past police lines, the AP news agency reported.

The demonstrations had been sparked by a planned vote by lawmakers Thursday morning on a government plan to revise the constitution to allow President Blaise Compaore stand for re-election next year, when he was due to stand down.

The proposal has deeply divided Burkina Faso, one of the world’s poorest nations and which has positioned itself as a mediator in regional crises.

It has also drawn criticism from former colonial power France and from the United States, allies of the Burkinabe government in operations against al Qaeda-linked groups in West Africa.

A government spokesperson said Thursday that the vote will now not go ahead.

Compaore has been in power since 1987, ruling the cotton and gold-producing nation with a generally firm grip. However, in recent years, he has faced increasing criticism, including from within his own camp and the military.

Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets of Ouagadougou and other towns across the country on Tuesday in what the opposition said was the start of a campaign of civil disobedience over the proposed constitutional reform.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)

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