Burkina Faso president refuses to resign in face of violent protests

Blaise Compaoré says he will lead transitional government after parliament is dissolved

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Burkina Faso on Friday to press President Blaise Compaoré to step down, a day after the army dissolved parliament and announced a transitional government.

Compaoré has refused to resign in the face of violent protests that pose the greatest threat to his 27-year rule, saying instead he will lead the transitional government.

Many protesters on the streets of Ouagadougou, the capital, said on Friday they wanted retired general Kouame Lougue, a popular former defence minister who was accused of trying to topple Compaoré in 2004, to take charge on an interim basis amid frustration with the fractious political opposition.

“We want him out of power. He is not our president,” said Ouedrago Yakubo, part of the huge crowd that gathered at the main Place de la Nation and in front of the army headquarters.

The square, the size of a football stadium, and surrounding streets were packed with more protesters than any other day this week, according to a Reuters reporter.

Protesters stormed the parliament building on Thursday and set part of it ablaze in a day of violence around the country triggered by a planned parliamentary vote to change the constitution and allow Compaoré to rule longer. It was scrapped as the scale of the anger became clear.

At least three protesters were shot dead and scores were wounded by security forces, emergency services said. A state of emergency was imposed for several hours but lifted late on Thursday.

Army general Honore Traore, the joint chief of staff, later announced that the government and parliament had been dissolved and a new, inclusive government would be named.

After hours of confusion about whether Compaoré would hold on to power or even where he was, the president spoke briefly on television and radio to state he was still in charge and would not step down. “I am available to open discussions with all parties,” he said in a recorded address.

The transitional government will include representatives from all sides and work to hold elections within 12 months. It was unclear if the opposition would agree to join a unity government, and the unrest underscored the threat Compaoré faces as frustrations mount in one of the world’s poorest countries.

Compaoré was 36 when he seized power in a coup in which Thomas Sankara, his former friend and one of Africa’s most revered leaders, was ousted and assassinated. Now 63, he is a staunch ally of the US and France but was also notoriously close to Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan leader, and former Liberian president Charles Taylor, who was found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.

Emile Pargui Pare from the opposition Movement of People for Progress said Thursday was “Burkina Faso’s black spring, like the Arab spring”.

Simon Compaoré, a senior opposition figure not related to the president, told Reuters: “It is absolutely necessary for Blaise Compaoré to leave power and for a transitional government to take over. Talks are taking place with General Lougue … but there is no agreement yet.”

Months of tension in the country erupted on Thursday when about 1,500 people broke through a heavy security cordon and laid siege to the parliament building in Ouagadougou despite police firing warning shots in the air.

A huge crowd converged on the main square and began marching towards Compaoré’s presidential palace, where security forces reportedly fired live rounds and teargas.


David Smith, Africa correspondent, and agencies

The GuardianTramp

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