Army chief takes power in Burkina Faso

Deposed president Blaise Compaore had been in power since military coup in 1987

Anti-government protesters gather in the Place de la Nation in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, today. Photograph:  Joe Penney/Reuters

Anti-government protesters gather in the Place de la Nation in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, today. Photograph: Joe Penney/Reuters

 

The head of Burkina Faso’s armed forces took power today after President Blaise Compaore resigned amid mass protests against an attempt to extend his 27-year rule.

Mr Compaore, in office since a 1987 military coup, had sought to defy popular pressure for him to step down, after a day of violent unrest on Thursday in which demonstrators stormed parliament and state television.

Impoverished Burkina Faso, under Mr Compaore’s rule, had emerged as a key mediator in the turbulent Sahel region of Africa and his departure robs the area of an elder statesman – though one whose human rights record was often criticised.

Key ally

United States

Demonstrations erupted on Thursday when parliament had been due to vote on plans to change the constitution to allow Mr Compaore to seek re- election next year. At least three people were shot dead and dozens wounded.

With hundreds of thousands packing the Place de la Nation in the capital Ouagadougou for a second day, and with no sign of international support – particularly from former colonial power France – Mr Compaore bowed to public pressure.

“I declare a vacancy of power with a view to allowing a transition that should end with free and transparent elections in a maximum period of 90 days,” Mr Compaore said in a written statement read by presenters on local radio and television.

A heavily-armed convoy believed to be carrying the former president was seen travelling towards the southern town of Po near the border with Ghana, which is home to a large military base, diplomatic sources and local media said.

The departure of the 63-year-old – who until recently was seen as one of west Africa’s most invulnerable “big men” – will send ripples across a region where several long-standing rulers are nearing the end of their terms amid rumbling discontent.

Crowds danced, cheered and blew whistles in Ouagadougou’s dusty streets after Mr Compaore’s statement was broadcast.

“This is a sub-Saharan Spring and it must continue against all the presidents who are trying to hang on to power in Africa,” said law student Lucien Trinnou.

Taken over reins

Honore Traore

Under Burkina Faso’s constitution, the head of the National Assembly should take office if the president resigns but parliament was dissolved by Gen Traore on Thursday under short-lived martial law, leaving a power vacuum into which he stepped.

It was the seventh time that a military officer had taken power since the country declared independence from France in 1960, when it was known as Upper Volta.

“Considering the urgency of saving the nation, I have decided to assume from today the responsibilities of head of state,” said the bespectacled Gen Traore.

“I make a solemn pledge to proceed without delay to consultations with all parties to start the process of returning to the constitutional order as soon as possible.” – (Reuters)