Soldiers vie for power after Burkina Faso president quits

Troops loyal to the officer, Lieutenant Colonel Issaac Zida, patrolled the quiet streets of the capital.

Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore. Picture: EPA.

OUAGADOUGOU - Military factions vying for power in Burkina Faso after the resignation of longtime President Blaise Compaore met for talks on Saturday after an officer in the presidential guard said he was ousting the army chief of staff as leader of the transition.

Troops loyal to the officer, Lieutenant Colonel Issaac Zida, patrolled the quiet streets of the capital Ouagadougou after he announced in a radio broadcast in the early hours of the morning that he was taking over as head of state to avoid a descent into anarchy and to ensure a swift democratic transition.

In a statement broadcast on Radio Omega FM, Zida said he was overruling army chief of staff General Honore Traore's announcement that he would take over as president. The assumption of power by Traore, a Compaore loyalist, was unpopular with many demonstrators and junior army officers.

Compaore stepped down on Friday after two days of mass protests against his attempts to change the constitution to extend his 27-year rule. At least three people were killed after protesters stormed the parliament building and set it on fire.

"I assume from today the responsibilities of head of this transition and head of state,"

Zida said, dressed in military fatigues, in the studio of BF1 television.

"I salute the memory of the martyrs of this uprising and bow to the sacrifices made by our people."

Heavy gunfire had been reported near the presidential palace before Zida made his statement, but a military source said this was a localised incident.

With fears running high of potential clashes between rival branches of the army, Zida met for talks with Traore and other military top brass later on Saturday at the main military camp in Ouagadougou.

The unfolding crisis is being closely watched by the United States and former colonial power France, which were close military allies of Compaore. Under his rule, Burkina Faso became a key ally in Western operations against al Qaeda-linked groups in West Africa, but a coup d'etat would freeze US military cooperation.

The events will also be carefully followed by other governments in West and Central Africa, where long-serving leaders are reaching the end of their constitutional terms in several countries, including Benin, Congo Republic and Democratic Republic of Congo.


The government of neighbouring Ivory Coast said on Saturday Compaore had arrived there with his family and entourage, but did not specify his location. Military sources said he was staying in a presidential retreat in the coastal resort of Assinie to the east of the economic capital Abidjan.

"He's been in Assinie since this morning," said one of the sources, who asked not to be identified. "He is not alone. Some members of his family are with him."

Zida said a roadmap to elections would be drafted by a body drawn from different elements of society, including political parties and civil society.

He appealed to the African Union and West African regional bloc ECOWAS to show their support for the transition.

"This is not a coup d'etat but a popular uprising," he told Reuters after making his statement. "The people have hopes and expectations, and we believe we have understood them."

It was the seventh time that a military officer had taken over as head of state since the country declared independence from France in 1960, when it was known as Upper Volta.

Troops loyal to Zida deployed at strategic points across the dusty capital on Friday night, enforcing a curfew from 1900 GMT to 0600 GMT. The airport and land borders were also closed on his orders, soldiers said.

Despite being one of the world's poorest nations, Burkina Faso positioned itself as a key mediator in regional crises under the stewardship of Compaore, who was renowned as a skilled negotiator and a wily, ruthless politician.

A taciturn former soldier who had survived several bids to oust him since he seized power in a 1987 military coup, Compaore had initially sought to defy the calls for him to step down after the protests turned violent on Thursday.

But his bid to cling to power - and its lavish trappings - angered many young people in a country stagnating in 183rd place out of 186 countries on the U.N. human development index.

With an average age of less than 18, most of the country's 17 million population have never known another leader.

Crowds danced, cheered and blew whistles in the central Place de la Nation in Ouagadougou after Compaore's resignation.

"This is a 'sub-Saharan Spring' and it must continue against all the presidents who are trying to hang on to power in Africa," said law student Lucien Trinnou, referring to the Arab Spring that toppled several long-term leaders.