Unrest simmers in Burkina Faso after reported coup

Unrest simmers in Burkina Faso after reported coup

Burkina Faso's reported coup is the latest in the Sahel region, much of which is battling a growing Islamist insurgency
Burkina Faso's reported coup is the latest in the Sahel region, much of which is battling a growing Islamist insurgency

OUAGADOUGOU - Security forces fired tear gas to disperse angry protesters outside the French embassy in Burkina Faso's capital on Sunday, as unrest simmered in the impoverished West African nation following a reported second coup this year.

The latest unrest began on Friday, when junior military officers announced they had toppled the country's junta leader, sparking deep concern among world powers over the latest coup to hit the Sahel region battling a growing Islamist insurgency.

In comments late on Saturday, the junta leader, Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, said he had no intention of giving up power and urged the officers to "come to their senses".

His comments came shortly after the army general staff dismissed the coup as an "internal crisis" within the military and said dialogue was "ongoing" to remedy the situation.

The capital remained tense overnight, with demonstrators gathering on the main roads of Ouagadougou as a helicopter hovered above.

The junior officers had accused Damiba of having hidden at a military base of former colonial power France to plot a "counteroffensive," charges that he and France denied. Damiba did not provide details of his whereabouts.

On Sunday, dozens of supporters of the new self-proclaimed putsch leader, Ibrahim Traore, gathered at the French embassy in the capital.

Security forces fired tear gas from inside the compound to disperse the protesters after they set fire to barriers outside and lobbed rocks at the structure, with some trying to scale the fence, according to an AFP reporter on the scene.

There were no immediate reports of injuries.

The French foreign ministry condemned "the violence against our embassy in the strongest terms" by "hostile demonstrators manipulated by a disinformation campaign against us."

It marked a third incident against a France-linked building in two days. On Saturday, a fire was seen outside the French embassy and witnesses said a fire also broke out in front of the French Institute in the western city of Bobo-Dioulasso.

In announcing their putsch, the officers accused Damiba of failing to quell jihadist attacks in the country.

Damiba himself came to power in a coup in January. He installed himself as leader of the country's 16 million people after accusing elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore of failing to beat back jihadist fighters. But the insurgency has raged on.

- 'Burkina Faso needs peace' -

Among a wave of international criticism, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres "strongly condemns any attempt to seize power by the force of arms and calls on all actors to refrain from violence and seek dialogue", his spokesman said.

"Burkina Faso needs peace, stability and unity to fight terrorist groups and criminal networks operating in parts of the country," the UN statement added.

The coup was also condemned by the US, the African Union, European Union and the regional grouping ECOWAS.

Jihadist violence has also prompted a series of coups in Mali, Guinea and Chad since 2020.

The new Burkina Faso putschists said they were willing "to go to other partners ready to help in the fight against terrorism".

No country was explicitly mentioned but Russia, whose influence is growing in French-speaking Africa, is among the possible partners in question.

France has a contingent of military special forces based in Kamboinsin which is about 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the capital Ouagadougou.

A few hours before the coup on Friday, hundreds of people had rallied in the capital seeking Damiba's departure, the end of France's military presence in the Sahel and military cooperation with Russia.

More than 40 percent of Burkina Faso remains outside government control.

In the north and east, towns have been blockaded by insurgents who have blown up bridges and attacked supply convoys.

Thousands have died and about two million have been displaced by the fighting since 2015 when the insurgency spread to Burkina Faso from Mali.

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