Ousted president’s right-hand man named new leader in Burkina Faso

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Ouagadougou (dpa) – A general close to former president Blaise Compaore was appointed the head of a military council that took power in Burkina Faso Thursday, a spokesman announced on national television.

Gilbert Diendere’s new post effectively makes him leader of the West African country after the presidential guard dissolved the government and parliament, putting an end to a transitional period that had followed Compaore’s ouster nearly a year ago.

The 54-year-old, who headed the presidential guard under Compaore, was known to many as the former president’s right-hand man.

On Thursday, he denied any contact with Compaore in comments made to the broadcaster France 24.

The transitional period had been due to culminate in elections in less than a month.

Cheriff Sy, the president of the transitional parliament, challenged Diendere by announcing that he was temporarily assuming the duties of the head of state after the presidential guard arrested interim President Michel Kafando.

In a declaration published by the website lefaso.net, Sy appealed to the army to back him, saying, “The nation is in danger.”

Diendere claims the presidential guard has the support of the rest of the army, which is still to speak out.

On Wednesday, soldiers from the Presidential Security Regiment interrupted a cabinet session to arrest Kafando, Prime Minister Isaac Zida and two other ministers.

They were taken to a military base inside the presidential compound, radio broadcaster Omega FM reported before soldiers closed the station.

The coup leaders announced the dissolution of the transitional institutions and pledged to seek negotiations “to form a government which will dedicate itself to restoring political order in the country” before elections were held.

They accused the transitional authorities of dividing the nation and called for “inclusive” elections, an indication that they disapproved of a ban that had prevented Compaore loyalists from contesting the elections set for October 11.

Diandere told France 24 he was planning to release Kafando and the three ministers. “We will not hold them indefinitely,” he said.

The new Burkinabe leader said no date had been set for new elections but pledged that the military council would hand power back to civilians “when the conditions are in place.”

Burkina Faso’s land and air frontiers have been closed and a curfew imposed from 7 pm to 6 am (1900 to 0600 GMT).

Protests were meanwhile staged in several areas of the capital amid a heavy military presence. Witnesses said members of the presidential guard fired on demonstrators and two of them were killed.

Some reports said at least 10 people were killed.

Political parties that had opposed Compaore called for a campaign of civil disobedience together with trade unions, civil society and human rights groups.

A house belonging to Diendere was set on fire in his home village at about 100 kilometres north of Ouagadougou, witnesses said.

French President Francois Hollande and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini called for the release of the interim leaders and the re-establishment of the transitional process.

The African Union said the arrest of the transitional leaders was a “terrorist act.”

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called the coup a serious violation of Burkina Faso’s constitution and its interim government.

The 1,300-member presidential guard is believed to have been unsatisfied with plans to dissolve it and integrate it into the military police.

The coup leaders might also have sought to avoid trial for involvement in repression of the opposition during the Compaore era, analysts said.

Kafando was chosen interim president in November after Compaore fled to Ivory Coast after 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 former French colony is among the world’s poorest countries.

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