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Soldiers from Burkina Faso’s powerful presidential guard interrupted a cabinet meeting on Wednesday and detained the interim President Michel Kafando, the prime minister and two cabinet members, military and government sources said.
“Members of the presidential guard burst into the room of the cabinet of ministers at around 14:30 and took hostage the president of Burkina Faso, the head of state, Michel Kafando, the Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida, and the minister of public administration … and the minister of housing,” Moumina Cheriff Sy, the head of the transitional parliament, said in a statement.
The move came two days after a commission charged with drafting reforms for Burkina Faso’s transitional government proposed dismantling the elite unit. The presidential guard, known as the RSP, was a key pillar of President Blaise Compaoré’s regime before he was toppled by demonstrations in October after 27 years in power.
According to information obtained by FRANCE 24, gunshots were heard inside the presidential palace, while Kafando and the prime minister were taken to an unknown location by the soldiers. The presidential guard had reportedly surrounded the palace to prevent anyone from entering or leaving.
‘Attack on the Republic’
Military sources had earlier said the whole cabinet had been detained but witnesses at the presidential palace suggested that some ministers were subsequently released by the soldiers.
“The RSP’s countless disruptions are a serious attack on the Republic and its institutions,” said Sy, adding that military chiefs were now negotiating with the soldiers.
After the news of the presidential guard’s actions broke, protesters began gathering outside the presidential palace, with soldiers outside firing warning shots to disperse the crowd, witnesses said.
Civil society activist Souleymane Ouedraogo said on his Facebook page that the soldiers were demanding the resignation of President Kafando. It was not possible to confirm this.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for their immediate release of Kafando and the prime minister on Wednesday.
“The secretary-general is outraged by reports of the detention of President Michel Kafando and Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida of Burkina Faso,” Ban’s press office said in a statement. “The secretary-general calls for their immediate release. This incident is a flagrant violation of Burkina Faso’s Constitution and Transitional Charter.”
‘Army within an army’
Burkina Faso is due to go to the polls on Oct. 11 to elect a new president from a field dominated by former members of Compaoré’s regime.
In a report submitted to Prime Minister Zida, himself a former commander in the presidential guard, the national reconciliation and reform commission described the 1,200-strong unit as “an army within an army”.
The RSP’s political meddling after Compaoré’s ousting, including attempts to force the prime minister’s resignation over his plans to reduce its size, provoked further protests and prompted authorities to call for a review of the guard’s role.
Monday’s report recommended that the regiment be broken up and its members redeployed within the framework of a broader reform of the military.