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Burkina Faso braces for protests as army names interim leader

By Agencies in Ouagadougou | China Daily | Updated: 2014-11-03 07:39

Several thousand people gathered in a square in the center of Burkina Faso's capital on Sunday as opposition and civil society leaders challenged moves by the military to step into the power vacuum left by the ousting of president Blaise Compaore.

The military named a high-ranking officer, Isaac Zida, to lead the country's transition on Saturday, a day after Compaore was forced to resign as plans to extend his 27-year rule exploded into violent demonstrations that saw parliament set ablaze.

Zida, who beat off a rival claim by the landlocked west African nation's army chief to lead the transitional government, vowed to work closely with civil society.

But opposition and activist leaders swiftly issued a statement warning the military against a power grab, demanding instead a "democratic and civilian transition".

"The victory born from this popular uprising belongs to the people, and the task of managing the transition falls by right to the people. In no case can it be confiscated by the army," they said in a statement.

The army took over national television headquarters on Sunday.

Soldiers from the presidential guard fired gunshots into the air in the courtyard entrance to disperse a crowd of demonstrators before taking control of the building, they said.

In Ouagadougou's Place de La Nation, the site of this week's mass protests, opposition leaders denounced the army's power grab.

In a strongly worded statement, the African Union called for the military to hand power over to the civilian authorities.

'Smooth transition'

"The chairperson of the (African Union) Commission ... stresses the duty and obligation of the defense and security forces to place themselves at the disposal of the civilian authorities who should lead the transition," it said in a statement.

Zida, the second in command of the presidential guard, said he had assumed "the responsibilities of head of the transition and of head of state" to ensure a "smooth democratic transition".

The transition will be carried out "together with the other components of national life", he said, referring to the political opposition and civil leaders.

The army's endorsement was signed by General Nabere Honore Traore, who initially said he would himself assume power, a claim Zida had dismissed as "obsolete".

"The aspirations for democratic change" of the Burkinabe youth "will be neither betrayed, nor disappointed", Zida said.

Speaking early on Saturday, the military officer also said the ousted president was "in a safe place" and his "safety and well-being are assured".

In neighboring Cote d'Ivoire, the presidency confirmed reports that Compaore, who left Ouagadougou on Friday according to French diplomats, was in the country.

Gearing up

A local resident said he saw a motorcade of around 30 cars heading for a luxury hotel in Cote d'Ivoire's capital, which is also used as a semiofficial residence for foreign dignitaries.

"The services of the President hotel in Yamoussoukro served him (Compaore) dinner yesterday (Friday) and breakfast this morning (Saturday)," a hotel employee said.

The streets of Ouagadougou were calm on Saturday, but residents were already gearing up for fresh protests.

"We are completely against soldiers taking power," Salif Ouedraogo, a 38-year-old insurance agent, said.

"We want a civilian as head of state and tomorrow we are going to regroup at Revoluation Square to say no to military power. Even if it means that there would be bloodshed."

Opposition figures have said around 30 people were killed in Thursday's violence. AFP could only confirm four deaths.

"It's always the same people who are in power. Even though it was us, civilians, who carried out the struggle," said Adama Zongo, a trader.

AFP - Reuters

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