Thursday, September 17, 2015 4:33 pm
A shadowy spy master, formerly the right-hand man to toppled President Blaise Compaore, seized power in Burkina Faso at the head of a military coup on Thursday, less than a month before elections meant to restore democracy in the West African state.
General Gilbert Diendere, who for three decades served as Compaore’s chief military adviser and operated an intelligence network spanning West Africa, was named as the head of a military junta called the National Council for Democracy.
The power grab led by the presidential guard unfolded three days after a government committee recommended dissolving the elite unit, which was a pillar of Compaore’s 27-year rule and has repeatedly meddled in politics since his fall.
A spokesman for the coup leaders hinted at a political agenda to back a return to power by loyalists to Compaore, who has remained in exile in neighbouring Ivory Coast since he was toppled by a popular uprising in October last year.
Under Compaore, Burkina emerged as an important regional ally of France and the United States against al Qaeda-linked militants. It hosts some 200 French special forces as part of France’s Barkhane regional anti-terrorist operation.
The coup sparked condemnation from former colonial power France, the United States and the United Nations. It quashed hopes of a smooth transition in a country that had become a beacon for democratic aspirations in Africa after protesters ousted Compaore when he tried to extend his rule.
Burkina Faso teetered into chaos on Wednesday when the presidential guard arrested interim President Michel Kafando, Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida, and two ministers.
On Thursday, soldiers fired warning shots to disperse a crowd of more than 100 protesters gathered in central Independence Square of the capital Ouagadougou. Soldiers drove the streets in pick-up trucks, beating and detaining demonstrators