Sunday, November 2, 2014 3:46 pm
The military junta in Burkina Faso moved swiftly to put off civilian challenge to its power by sending troops to the capital main square to disperse thousands of protesters, asking it to surrender power to civilians, in line with the constitution.
Troops moved in to Place de la Nation in Ouagadougou, setting up barricades and removing thousands of people who had gathered to denounce the army’s power grab after the turbulent ouster of president Blaise Compaore on Friday.
Soldiers from the presidential guard also fired into the air to disperse protesters as they took control of national broadaster RTB and cleared out all staff, AFP correspondents at the scene said.
The military stepped into the power vacuum left after Compaore stepped down in the wake of violent street demonstrations over his 27-year-rule of the west African state that some have likened to the Arab Spring.
But international mediators brandished the threat of sanctions if the army refused to back down and allow a civilian transfer of power.
The UN envoy for west Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, told a news conference in the Burkinabe capital that he and African leaders had pressed the demand in a meeting with the country’s top military brass.
The US State Department also called on the military to immediately transfer power to civilian authorities.
Hundreds of thousands of protesters, furious at plans to extend Compaore’s rule in the impoverished landlocked country, had massed on the streets of Ouagadougou on Thursday, some going on a rampage and setting the parliament and other public buildings ablaze.
Under Burkina Faso’s constitution, the speaker of parliament was supposed to step in as interim head of state following the president’s resignation.
– ‘Zida go!’ –
But the army instead named the second-in-command of the presidential guard, Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida, as head of the transitional authority.
Zida said he was appointed to ensure a “smooth democratic transition” and promised to consult with the political opposition and civil leaders.
But several thousand people joined a march against the military on Sunday.
“No to the theft of our victory, long live the people!” said one banner, while others read: “Zida go!”, “Zida is Judas.”
The mediators from the United Nations, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States told Zida and other military leaders that civilian rule needed to be restored.
They “assured us that they had well understood the message,” Chambas said.
But US State Department spokeswoman Jan Psaki voiced international mistrust at the army’s move, saying the United States condemned its attempt to “impose its will” on the people of Burkina Faso.
“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,” she said in a statement.