Soldiers seize power in Burkina Faso

A junior officer announced the suspension of the constitution, the dissolution of the government and parliament



Burkina Faso mutinous soldiers look at a wreaked car outside the Guillaume Ouedraogo military camp in Ouagadougou. — AP
Burkina Faso mutinous soldiers look at a wreaked car outside the Guillaume Ouedraogo military camp in Ouagadougou. — AP

By AFP

Published: Tue 25 Jan 2022, 12:29 AM

Soldiers in Burkina Faso on Monday announced on state television that they have seized power in the West African country following a mutiny over the civilian president’s failure to contain insurgency.

A junior officer announced the suspension of the constitution, the dissolution of the government and parliament, and the closure of the country’s borders from midnight on Monday, reading from a statement signed by Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba.

He said the new Patriotic Movement for Preservation and Restoration (MPSR) would re-establish “constitutional order” within a “reasonable time”, adding that a nationwide nightly curfew would be enforced.

Earlier on Monday, African and Western powers denounced what they called an “attempted coup” and the EU demanded the “immediate” release of President Roch Marc Christian Kabore.

The United States also called for Kabore’s release and urged “members of the security forces to respect Burkina Faso’s constitution and civilian leadership”.

UN chief Antonio Guterres said in a statement he “strongly condemns any attempted takeover of government by the force of arms”, calling events a “coup”.

Following contradictory reports over Kabore’s whereabouts EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said in a statement: “We now know that President Kabore is under the control of the military.”

He called the situation “extremely worrying”.

A government source had said that Kabore was “exfiltrated” from his home late Sunday by his presidential guard “before the arrival of armed elements who fired on the vehicles of his convoy”.

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An AFP correspondent early Monday saw three bullet-ridden vehicles outside Kabore’s residence, with traces of blood visible on one.

On Sunday, soldiers rose up at several army bases across Burkina Faso, which has been fighting the Islamist insurgency since 2015. They demanded the removal of military top brass and more resources to fight insurgents, but made no mention of seeking Kabore’s ouster.

The president, in power since 2015 and re-elected in 2020, has faced rising public anger about failure to stop the bloodshed in the poor, landlocked country.

On Monday, the People’s Movement for Progress ruling party said Kabore was the victim of an “aborted assassination attempt”. A government minister, who was not named, also survived an attempt on his life and the president’s home was ransacked, it added.

The country “is heading with each passing hour towards a military coup by force,” the ruling party said, adding that the presidential palace had been “encircled” “by a group of armed and masked men” and the national radio and television “occupied”.

Around 10 hooded troops were deployed in front of the headquarters of the national broadcaster RTB on Monday, an AFP journalist said.

The government source said that Kabore had been “exfiltrated” from his home late Sunday by his presidential guard “before the arrival of armed elements who fired on the vehicles of his convoy”.

Earlier, the ruling party urged “loyalist security forces, patriots and republicans to distance themselves from this umpteenth attempt at destabilisation (and) stand with the Burkinabe people, law and democracy”.

A message was posted on Kabore’s Twitter account urging “those who have taken up arms to lay them down in the greater interest of the nation”. It was impossible to verify whether the president wrote the tweet himself, or under what circumstances.

“We must settle our contradictions through dialogue and listening,” the tweet added.

Burkina Faso has seen several coups or attempted coups. In neighbouring Mali — where the insurgency began before crossing the border — the military toppled the civilian government in 2020.

On Monday, West African states in the ECOWAS grouping described the latest volatility as a “coup attempt” and held “soldiers responsible for (Kabore’s) physical well-being”.

The African Union said its commission chief, Moussa Faki Mahamat, “strongly condemns the attempted coup d’etat against the democratically elected president”.

France, the former colonial power in Burkina Faso, urged its citizens in the country to “avoid any travel” and said that two Air France flights scheduled for late Monday had been cancelled.

On Sunday, gunfire was heard at numerous military bases and near Kabore’s Ouagadougou residence. Witnesses reported seeing a helicopter overhead. Mobile internet was cut the same day.

Rebellious troops presented a list of demands, which emphasised the need for a better strategy and more resources to fight militants, in a voice recording received by AFP.

On Saturday, police used tear gas to disperse banned protests, arresting dozens.

Then on Sunday, demonstrators set fire to the headquarters of the ruling party. Fresh protests were staged on Monday.

The camp where Kabore was reportedly held also houses a military prison where General Gilbert Diendere — a former right-hand man to deposed president Blaise Compaore — is serving a 20-year term for an attempted coup in 2015.

The insurgency, which swept in from Mali, has overwhelmed Burkina’s poorly trained and badly equipped armed forces.

Around 2,000 people have died, according to an AFP tally, while around 1.5 million people are internally displaced, according to the national emergency agency CONASUR.


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