BURKINA Faso’s president, Blaise Compaore, resigned yesterday after 27 years in power following a wave of violent protests against his attempt to extend his rule.
Opposition-led demonstrations descended into chaos earlier in the week, with Burkina Faso’s parliament in the capital, Ouagadougou, being set alight, causing extensive damage to the main debating chamber.
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In a statement read out on television and radio stations, Mr Compaore said: “I declare that I’m leaving power in order to have a free and transparent election in 90 days. For my part, I think I have fulfilled my duty.”
Opposition protesters who had gathered in a square in the capital burst into cheers when they heard the announcement on hand-held radios.
Mr Compaore said he had decided to leave power “in light of the severely deteriorated sociopolitical situation and the threat of division in our national army and out of a desire to preserve the peace”.
Military chief General Honore Traore said he had taken over as head of state “in line with constitutional measures”.
The nation’s military has played a visible role during the crisis and Burkina Faso’s government and parliament were dissolved on Thursday.
For months, an opposition coalition has been urging Mr Compaore not to seek re-election for what would have been his fifth term in power. But he and his ruling party looked set to push a bill through parliament on Thursday that would have allowed him to run again.
Determined to block the vote, protesters stormed the building, the vote was suspended and the military announced the legislature had been dissolved and a transition government would be formed. After that, Mr Compaore said he would lead until the new elections.
But protesters rejected that plan and gathered again yesterday, demanding that Mr Compaore step down immediately.
It was a dramatic turn of events for one of Africa’s longest serving leaders who has survived other attempts to topple him.
He came to power following an October 1987 coup against then-president Thomas Sankara, Mr Compaore’s long-time friend and political ally, who was killed in the power grab.
Mr Compaore had been elected four times since then, though the opposition has disputed the results.
In recent years, the 63-year-old Mr Compaore has fashioned himself as an elder statesman who brokered electoral disputes and hostage releases throughout West Africa.
Domestically, he kept a tight rein on any opposition and never groomed a viable political heir.
However, he also supported Liberian president Charles Taylor, who is now serving a prison term after being found guilty of supporting war crimes by the International Criminal Court at The Hague.
In 2011, Mr Compaore was confronted by an earlier challenge when multiple waves of protests washed over the country.
At one point, mutinous soldiers occupied the palace, forcing the president to flee.
But what would have spelled the end for many leaders was only a temporary problem for Mr Compaore, and he manoeuvred to stay in power by removing his security chiefs and appointing himself defence minister before returning to Ouagadougou.
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