Burkina Faso army to cede power ‘quickly’ amid coup claims

Military appointed provisional head of state after longtime president quit after protests

The Burkina Faso military appointed Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida (left) as provisional head of state on Saturday after longtime president Blaise Compaore stepped down on Friday following two days of mass protests. The African Union and Western powers who want to see a swift return to civilian rule. Photograph: Legnan Koula/EPA.

The Burkina Faso military appointed Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida (left) as provisional head of state on Saturday after longtime president Blaise Compaore stepped down on Friday following two days of mass protests. The African Union and Western powers who want to see a swift return to civilian rule. Photograph: Legnan Koula/EPA.

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Burkina Faso’s army will quickly cede power to a transitional government and appoint a new head of state, the country’s interim president Isaac Zida said today, looking to calm accusations that the military had seized power in a coup.

Longtime president Blaise Compaore stepped down on Friday following two days of mass protests in the West African nation over his bid to extend his 27-year rule by amending the constitution.

The military appointed Lieutenant Colonel Zida as provisional head of state the following day, drawing criticism from opposition politicians, the African Union and Western powers who want to see a swift return to civilian rule.

The African Union, whose democratic charter binds its 54 member states to take action against coups on the continent, put more pressure on the Burkina military today, giving it an ultimatum to hand back power to a civilian administration within two weeks or face sanctions.

Lt Col Zida told a gathering of diplomats and journalists in the capital Ouagadougou that executive powers would be passed to a transitional government, in accordance with the constitution.

“We are going to move very fast, but be careful not to commit a mistake that might damage our country,” he said. “We are not here to usurp power and to sit in place and run the country, but to help the country come out of this situation,” he said, adding that a new head of state would be chosen following broad discussions with various groups.

His announcement came in the wake of crisis meetings late last night between Lt Col Zida and opposition leaders after thousands gathered to denounce his appointment in the central Place de la Nation - the scene of violent protests last week during which the parliament was set alight.

Equatorial Guinea’s Ambassador to the African Union, Simeon Oyono Esono, who holds the rotating chair of its Peace and Security Council, told journalists in the Ethiopian capital that although popular pressure led to the ousting of Mr Compaore, the change had been undemocratic.

“We have taken note of the origin of the popular revolt which led to the military getting power, so we determined the period of two weeks and after that period we are going apply sanctions,” Mr Esono said.

Under Burkina Faso’s constitution, the head of the National Assembly should take office if the president resigns, with a mandate to organise elections within 90 days. However, the National Assembly head has reportedly fled the country, along with other senior figures from the Compaore administration.

Mr Compaore himself arrived in neighbouring Ivory Coast on Saturday, the government there said in a statement.

Burkina Faso troops cleared thousands of protesters from the capital and opened fire at state TV headquarters yesterday, killing one person, after crowds had flocked there in anticipation of the announcement of a new leader.

Calm had returned today, with banks reopening and traffic filling up the dusty streets of the capital. An overnight curfew remained in place.

Col Zida’s appointment marks the seventh time that a military officer had taken over as head of state in Burkina Faso since it won independence from France in 1960. It was previously known as Upper Volta.

Reuters

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