Leader will not quit over protests

Published: Friday 31st October 2014 by The News Editor

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Burkina Faso’s veteran leader refused to resign in the face of violent protests that posed the greatest threat to his nearly three-decade rule.

President Blaise Compaore said he will lead a transitional government after parliament was dissolved.

Protesters stormed the parliament building and set part of it ablaze in a day of violence around the country to stop a parliamentary vote that would have allowed him to seek a fifth term in office.

At least one person was killed and several others were wounded, the authorities said, a curfew was put in place and a state of emergency was imposed for several hours, then lifted.

In a concession to the protesters, the government withdrew the bill from consideration.

But the move did not placate the protesters, and Army General Honore Traore, the joint chief of staff, later announced that government and parliament had been dissolved and a new, inclusive government would be named.

After hours of confusion about whether Mr Compaore would hold on to power or even where he was, the president spoke briefly on television and radio to stay 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 unleashed yesterday underscored the threat Mr Compaore now faces as frustrations mount in one of the world’s poorest countries.

In a sign of the growing unrest, crowds also attacked the homes of government ministers and looted shops in the country’s second-largest city, Bobo Dioulasso, witnesses said.

Flames enveloped the main building in the parliament complex, and many MPs fled to a nearby hotel.

“It is difficult to say what happens next, but things are out of control because the demonstrators do not listen to anyone,” said Ablasse Ouedraogo, an opposition MP.

The images of cars on fire and plumes of black smoke in the capital of Ouagadougou prompted alarm from the international community.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called on all parties to end the violence, and is “saddened over the loss of life resulting from recent events,” a statement said.

In a bid to restore calm, military leaders met the influential traditional chief of the country’s largest ethnic group, the Mossi, according to Jonathan Yameogo, a spokesman for the ruling party.

Burkina Faso has long been known for its relative stability in volatile West Africa, though tensions have been mounting over Compaore’s plans to extend his rule.

Mr Compaore first came to power following the October 1987 coup against then-President Thomas Sankara, his long-time friend and political ally who ultimately was killed in the power grab.

He has been elected four times since, though the opposition has disputed the results.

US state department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the US welcomed Mr Compaore’s decision to withdraw the bill that would have allowed him to run again.

“We also welcome his decision to form a government of national unity to prepare for national elections and to transfer power to a democratically elected successor,” she said.

Earlier, police in the capital had pushed the crowds back with tear gas, but they regrouped in larger numbers, surged past police lines and broke into the parliament building.

Since coming to power Mr Compaore, 63, has refashioned himself as an elder statesman who brokered electoral disputes and hostage releases throughout the region.

He made no secret of his support for Charles Taylor, the Liberian warlord turned president now serving a 50-year sentence for war crimes and crimes against humanity in Sierra Leone.

The leader of Burkina Faso also has been accused of supporting rebel groups in Ivory Coast and Angola, though he later played the role as a peacemaker in Ivory Coast and elsewhere.

More recently, his government was involved in negotiating the release of several European hostages held by al Qaida-linked militants in northern Mali.

He also hosted the talks between Mali’s government and separatist Tuareg rebels, leading to the agreement which made the July 2013 presidential election possible.

In 2011, Mr Compaore encountered another crisis when multiple waves of protests washed over the country.

The unrest began with students torching government buildings in several cities after a young man died in the custody of security forces, allegedly as a result of mistreatment.

Ordinary citizens took to the streets over rising food prices, and soldiers looted shops and stole cars to express their discontent over low pay.

At one point in mid-April of that year, mutinous soldiers occupied the palace, forcing the president to flee.

But what would have spelled the end for many presidents was a mere temporary problem for Mr Compaore, one he could manoeuvre his way out of by removing his security chiefs and appointing himself defence minister before returning to Ouagadougou.

Published: Friday 31st October 2014 by The News Editor

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