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Speaking to FRANCE 24 on Thursday, General Gilbert Diendéré said that the coup in Burkina Faso had the support of the army and that those leaders seized in the coup would be freed.
Acting President Michel Kafando and Prime Minister Isaac Zida were detained along with two ministers when members of the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) burst into a cabinet meeting on Wednesday. Coup members later declared General Diendéré the new leader until “inclusive and peaceful” elections can be held.
In a statement, the RSP also announced the closure of the West African nation’s borders as well as the implementation of an overnight curfew. “We have the support of the army and the defence forces,” Diendéré told FRANCE 24.
Asked what would happen to Kafando and Zida, Diendéré said: “We are going to free them, we will not hold them indefinitely.” Diendéré also told FRANCE 24 that he had had “no contact” with ex-president Blaise Compaoré during the takeover despite speculation over Compaoré’s links to the coup’s leaders. Diendéré once served as Compaoré’s closest aide.
Diendéré added that an ongoing case against Compaoré for treason would go ahead, saying that he had no intention of interfering with judicial proceedings. The general said that new elections would be held as soon as possible.
“As soon as all the conditions have come together, we will be ready to return [to civilian rule]. We are not here to take power.” Coup spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Mamadou Bamba spoke earlier on national television to announce that “wide-ranging talks” were being held to form a new government. He added that the coup had put an end to “the deviant regime of transition” in the West African state.
Zida was himself once an officer in Compaoré’s powerful Presidential Security Regiment before he toppled his boss after days of street protests in October 2014. Shots could still be heard Thursday in the capital Ouagadougou after the arrest of the nation’s transitional leaders triggered immediate street protests outside the presidential palace where they were reportedly being held.
Medical sources said that at least one person had died and 60 others were hurt in the unrest. Revolution Square – the epicentre of protests against Compaoré – was empty apart from military patrols, with the streets of the capital also deserted.
Interim parliament speaker Moumina Cheriff Sy denounced what he said was a “coup d’état” and in an interview with FRANCE 24’s sister station Radio France Internationale (RFI) on Thursday called on the people to “immediately rise up”. Sy called the detention of the president and prime minister “a serious attack on the republic”.
International condemnation was swift, with the United Nations Security Council and the European Union, one of the main donors to the poverty-stricken country, demanding the immediate release of the country’s transitional leaders, and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon expressing his outrage.
President François Hollande of France – Burkina’s former colonial power – joined the chorus of disapproval, calling for political order “to be restored” but ruled out sending French troops to the country. France also warned its citizens living in the country to “stay indoors” during the unrest.
In a joint statement, the United Nations, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) demanded “the immediate and unconditional release of the hostages”. Protesters marching on the presidential palace on Wednesday evening were met with bursts of gunfire, with shooting also heard around the complex Thursday.
Crowds of several hundred shouting “Down with the RSP” gathered with whistles and vuvuzelas near the palace after news spread, with the headquarters of Compaoré’s Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) party ransacked. Troops threaten to kill radio staff
Broadcasts by RFI and the private Omega radio station were cut off. Omega boss Alpha Barry told FRANCE 24 that RSP troops had threatened to kill its staff if they did not stop transmitting. The country’s main trade unions launched a joint appeal “to observe a general strike throughout the national territory (…) against the RSP interference in politics and for a true democracy”.
While the RSP’s demands were not yet known, it has repeatedly tried to disrupt the ongoing transition. On Monday the country’s National Reconciliation and Reforms Commission had recommended that the 1,300-man force, considered the landlocked country’s best troops, be disbanded.
A transitional government had been in place since ex-president Compaoré fled into exile following violent protests in 2014, and was charged with running the nation until presidential and legislative elections could be held on October 11. Supporters of Compaoré were banned from standing in the upcoming elections under a controversial election law passed in April, which made anyone who supported “unconstitutional change” ineligible to run.
On the ground, the Balai Citoyen (“Civic Broom”) movement, which was at the forefront of last year’s anti-Compaoré protests, called for protesters to gather to “say no to the coup d’état under way”, an appeal that was shared widely on social networks.
State television was broadcasting its usual cartoons and a football match. Its buildings have traditionally been guarded by the RSP.