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Burkina army storms coup leader's barracks

Burkinabe gendarmes patrol near the RSP military barracks on September 29, 2015 in Ouagadougou.
Burkinabe gendarmes patrol near the RSP military barracks on September 29, 2015 in Ouagadougou. AFP

Soldiers behind the coup in Burkina Faso abandoned their barracks in the capital late on Tuesday after a tense standoff with Burkina army troops, the military said, as authorities battled to regain control of the crisis-hit country.

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Coup leader General Gilbert Dienderé told AFP he feared there had been many deaths from the assault on the sprawling military base, which is next to the presidential palace in Ouagadougou.

The army “fired artillery,” Dienderé told AFP, adding that there had been families and a clinic inside the barracks.

“There must have been many deaths and injuries.”

It was not immediately clear how many people died.

After the army fired on the barracks with heavy weapons, and as their leader pleaded with his men to lay down their arms to “avoid a bloodbath,” the troops behind the September 17 coup stood down, the military said.

“The situation is calm. An assault was carried out; there was no confrontation,” said General Pingrenoma Zagre, the Burkinabe army’s chief of staff.

Military sources said troops were continuing to comb the barracks into the night.

Dienderé ready to face justice

The government issued a statement hailing the “liberation” of presidential guard (RSP)  camps by “our valiant defence and security forces,” urging the public to now work together to boost national unity.

Ahead of the operation Diendéré told local media that commanding the RSP had "become a bit difficult... There are some troops who are out of control".

The general, saying he was no longer at the barracks but without giving details, said he was ready to face justice, and “at the disposal of my country’s judiciary”.

Ouagadougou airport was closed as troops locked down the area around the barracks of the RSP, ratcheting up the pressure on them to stand down.

Troops had deployed around the barracks with armoured cars and pickup trucks ahead of the operation as tensions escalated, with soldiers equipped with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades stationed at several intersections.

Tense standoff

The army’s operation brought to an end a tense standoff between authorities and the presidential guard after they failed to disarm following the September 17 coup, with the army staging a lockdown around their barracks in the capital Ouagadougou.

Burkina Faso's army announced shortly before Tuesday’s operation it was giving "a last chance" to the coup plotters to "avoid a confrontation," military spokesman Lieutenant Aziz Ouedraogo said.

The recent unrest in Burkina Faso began when soldiers from the elite presidential guard stormed into a cabinet meeting in mid September and abducted interim president Michel Kafando and Prime Minister Zida, disrupting a transition period due to end with polls next month. Diendéré, a former spy chief, was named junta head the next day.

The interim government had been in place since ex-president Blaise Compaoré fled into exile following violent protests in 2014, and was charged with running the nation until presidential and legislative elections could be held on October 11.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)

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