Burkina Faso army urged to transfer powers

GUNFIRE rang out yesterday at the headquarters of Burkina Faso’s state-run RTB Television as the broadcaster went off air, witnesses said, amid a power struggle following the resignation of the long-ruling president Blaise Compaore.
Opposition leader Sara Sereme acknowledges supporters during a protest. Picture: AFPOpposition leader Sara Sereme acknowledges supporters during a protest. Picture: AFP
Opposition leader Sara Sereme acknowledges supporters during a protest. Picture: AFP

Mr Compaore’s 27 years in power ended abruptly on Friday after two days of mass protests aimed at thwarting his bid to change the constitution to 
extend his rule.

Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida was then appointed as transitional leader, superseding an earlier claim by the army chief of staff.

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The shots were fired shortly after the arrival of Sara Sereme, the head of opposition party PDC, and about 100 of her supporters chanting “Sarah President”.

An army general who was also present at the studio along with supporters, and witnesses said he was planning to make a declaration on the television before it was shut down.

The gunshots were fired into the air and there was no sign of injuries.

Meanwhile, Burkina Faso’s new military leader came under growing pressure yesterday to hand over power to a civilian government, as about 1,000 people gathered in the capital to express concern over his selection by the army.

Mr Compaore stepped down after protesters torched the parliament in a show of anger over his bid to amend the constitution so he could seek a fifth term in this desperately poor, landlocked West African country. He and his family fled to Ivory Coast.

Yesterday’s rally also underscored divisions within the opposition – some activists who had long opposed Mr Compaore called for an inclusive transition while others questioned the legitimacy of Lt Col Zida’s rule altogether.

Stanislas Benewinde Sankara, the leader of one opposition party, called for the dismissal of Lt Col Zida’s 

“The army cannot lead us – they have disqualified themselves,” said Mr Sankara, who is no relation to the late slain Burkinabe leader with the same name. “This is the result of a popular insurrection.” The United States and the African Union have also condemned the power grab by the military.

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“We call on the military to immediately transfer power to civilian authorities,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “We urge civilian leadership to be guided by the spirit of the constitution of Burkina Faso and to move immediately towards free and fair presidential elections.”

African Union chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma called for a “civilian-led transition that would culminate, as soon as possible, in the holding of free, fair and transparent elections.” “She stresses the duty and obligation of the defence and security forces to place themselves at the disposal of the civilian authorities who should lead the transition, and to act in a republican spirit,” read a statement from her office.

Burkina Faso, though mired in poverty, had long been a country of stability in politically volatile West Africa.

Mr Compaore had served as a political mediator in a bloody post-election dispute in Ivory Coast.

However, frustration mounted as he sought legislative approval for a bill that would have enabled him to seek yet another term in office.

Mr Compaore, who first took power in 1987 after a coup that left visionary leader Thomas Sankara slain, had subsequently won four elections – all disputed by the political opposition.