Burkina Faso junta releases president and ministers

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Ouagadougou (dpa) – The military council that has taken power in Burkina Faso released President Michel Kafando on Friday, the radio station Omega FM reported.

The junta also released two ministers who were detained with Kafando by the presidential guard on Wednesday.

Kafando returned to his residence, which was surrounded by soldiers after protesters said they might come to see him, the broadcaster said.

The release of Kafando and the two ministers was previously announced on national television.

The announcement did not mention Prime Minister Isaac Zida, the fourth cabinet member under arrest.

Zida was deputy commander of the Presidential Security Regiment when it was under the authority of coup leader Gilbert Diendere during the rule of ousted president Blaise Compaore. The two are now regarded as political rivals.

The junta said it decided to release Kafando after meeting with representatives of the United Nations, the African Union, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), France and the United States.

The junta also announced the reopening of air and land frontiers, according to the website aOuaga.com.

Protest rallies were reported all over Ouagadougou, with demonstrators burning tyres and erecting barricades. Witnesses said that members of the presidential guard were firing at demonstrators.

Several people had been killed in similar protests on Thursday.

Peaceful rallies were also held Friday in other cities with no military presence on the streets.

The presidents of Senegal and Benin were meanwhile due to arrive in the West African country on behalf of ECOWAS to mediate in the crisis.

They were expected to ask the junta to hand power back to civilians.

The coup leaders on Thursday announced the dissolution of the transitional government and parliament that had been set up after the ouster of Compaore nearly a year ago.

The transitional period had been due to culminate in elections on October 11.

Cheriff Sy, president of the transitional parliament, on Friday called on the presidential guard to “immediately lay down arms” and to report to the army chief of staff.

Sy had challenged Diendere by announcing that he was temporarily assuming the duties of head of state after the presidential guard arrested Kafando.

The coup has been condemned by the United Nations and the European Union.

The 1,300-member presidential guard is believed to have been dissatisfied with plans to dissolve it.

The coup leaders may also have sought to avoid being put on trial for involvement in repression of the opposition in the Compaore era, analysts said.

“A key aim of the coup was to derail elections that could have hamstrung the political clout of the military, including key players in the Presidential Security Regiment,” said Maja Bovcon, an Africa analyst with the global risk consultant Verisk Maplecroft.

“The ouster may succeed in delaying the vote, at least for several months, and eventually allow allies of Compaore to at least contest the election,” Bovcon added.

Compaore loyalists had been excluded from candidacy in the October 11 vote.

Kafando was chosen interim president in November, after Compaore fled to Ivory Coast following massive protests against his plans to extend his 27-year rule.

The African Union threatened Burkina Faso with sanctions unless power was handed over to civilians, and an agreement was reached on a transitional period.

The popular uprising in Burkina Faso became a model for countries such as Burundi and Congo, where citizens also demonstrated against plans by their leaders to extend their rule.

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