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BURKINA FASO

Thousands protest against post-coup army rule in Burkina Faso

‏AFP
4 min

Thousands gathered Sunday in the centre of Burkina Faso’s capital to protest against the military's move to install one of its own, Lt. Col. Isaac Zida, as interim leader following the Friday ouster of president Blaise Compaore.

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Opposition leaders and civic activists had called for a mass rally in Ouagadougou against military rule at the site now nicknamed "Revolution Square", where up to a million people had gathered earlier this week to demand Compaore's resignation.

The military named Zida to lead the country's transition of power on Saturday, a day after Compaore was forced to resign after his controversial plans to extend his 27-year rule by running for re-election next year sparked violent demonstrations that saw parliament set ablaze.

Burkina Faso’s military on Saturday backed Zida, a presidential guard officer, to lead a transitional government. But opposition and civic leaders swiftly issued a statement warning the military against a power grab and demanding instead a "democratic and civilian transition".

"The victory born from this popular uprising belongs to the people, and the task of managing the transition falls by right to the people. In no case can it be confiscated by the army," they said in a joint statement.

The opposition move appeared to have the backing of the African Union, which urged a "civilian-led and consensual transition" through free elections in the former French colony.

Some have drawn parallels with the Arab Spring, with the developments closely watched across a continent where several other veteran heads of state are also trying to cling to power.

Zida, who beat out a rival claim to power by the nation's army chief, General Honore Traore, has vowed to work closely with civil society.

The army's endorsement was signed by General Traore.

The second in command of the presidential guard, Zida, 49, said he had assumed "the responsibilities of head of the transition and of head of state" to ensure a "smooth democratic transition".

Read more: Burkina Faso Faces a Tricky Transition

The transition will be carried out "together with the other components of national life," Zida said, referring to the political opposition and civil leaders.

"The aspirations for democratic change" of the Burkina youth "will be neither betrayed, nor disappointed", he said.

'We want a civilian'

"We are completely against soldiers taking power," Salif Ouedraogo, a 38-year-old insurance agent, told AFP.

"We want a civilian as head of state and tomorrow we are going to regroup at Revolution Square to say no to military power. Even if it means that there would be bloodshed."

"It's always the same people who are in power. Even though it was us, civilians, who carried out the struggle," said Adama Zongo, a trader.

Opposition figures have said around 30 people were killed in Thursday's violence. AFP could only confirm four deaths.

The US State Department called on the military Saturday to hand over power. "We call on the military to immediately transfer power to civilian authorities," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in a statement, adding that "the United States condemns the Burkinabe military's attempt to impose its will on the people of Burkina Faso".

Others were more positive about a future under army rule.

"We should give [Zida] time. Those who don't want a soldier in power, who do they want?" asked Gildas Zongo, a student.

France's President François Hollande said Paris would "contribute to calming" the situation in Burkina Faso, while Washington urged "a transfer of power in accordance with the constitution".

Compaore was only 36 when he seized power in a 1987 coup in which president Thomas Sankara was ousted and assassinated.

His bid to hold on to power particularly angered young people in a country where 60 percent of the population of almost 17 million is under 25.

Many have grown up under only Compaore's rule and are disillusioned by the leadership in a country that is languishing at 181st out of 187 countries on the UN human development index.

Known in colonial times as Upper Volta, the country won independence from France in 1960 and its name was changed to Burkina Faso ("the land of upright men") in 1984.

Speaking on television early Saturday, Zida said the ousted president was "in a safe place" and that his "safety and wellbeing are assured".

In neighbouring Ivory Coast the presidency confirmed reports that Compaore, who left Ouagadougou on Friday according to French diplomats, was in the country.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

 

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