Rival officers claim power in Burkina Faso

Colonel says he is in charge hours after nation’s top general, an ally of the ousted president, did the same.

An army general and a colonel have both announced they will lead a transition to democracy after Burkina Faso’s President Blaise Compaore was pushed out by street protests, ending a 27-year reign.

Colonel Yacouba Zida said in a recorded address posted early on Saturday on the website of a national television station that he was filling the vacuum.

“While we wait to define in a consensual manner, with all of the political parties and civil society organisations, the contours and composition of this peaceful democratic transition,” Zida said. “I will henceforth assume, from today, the responsibilities of the head of this transition and the head of state.”

The announcement came just hours after General Honore Traore, the joint chief of staff, and Compaore loyalist, made the same declaration.

It was not immediately clear if Traore accepted Zida’s announcement on Saturday.

Population: 16.9 million.
Nearly half the population lives on less than $1 a day.

Landlocked state bordering Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo and Ghana.

Became independent from France in 1960. 
Economy based on agriculture. Main exports are gold and cotton.

When he resigned, Compaore had said a vote would be held in 90 days, but Zida said the “length and make-up of the transitional body will be decided later”.

Jen Psaki, spokesperson for the US State Department, called for democratic elections.

“We condemn any attempts by the military or other parties to take advantage of the situation for unconstitutional gain and call on all parties to respect the people’s support for the democratic process,” she said in a statement released late on Friday.

Semi-authoritarian rule

Compaore stepped down after protesters stormed the country’s parliament and set it on fire as he was seeking to pass a vote that would allow his re-election for the fifth term.

While he was respected on the international stage, critics noted that, under Compaore’s semi-authoritarian rule, the country of 18 million people remained mired in poverty. The landlocked country’s fortunes rise and fall with gold and cotton prices – and adequate rain in a region plagued by drought.

Compaore’s exit will have significance throughout the region, where many leaders have pushed through constitutional changes to prolong their rule and others are attempting to, West Africa expert, Philippe Hugon, said.

Why Burkina Faso matters?

“It’s obvious that what happened will have an echo in other countries,” said Hugon of the Institute for Strategic and International Relations.

In the end, Compaore was pushed from power by violent protests and an emboldened opposition that would accept nothing short of his resignation.

“I declare that I’m leaving power,” Compaore said in a statement. “For my part, I think I have fulfilled my duty.”

Thousands of opposition protesters gathered Friday in a square in the capital and burst into cheers when they heard the announcement of his resignation on hand-held radios.

“This is a new revolution” and a chance to get it right, said Donald Fayama, a shopkeeper who was among the demonstrators. “At least tomorrow, we are not going to wake up with the same face of the same president.”

Compaore, 63, was headed south to the city of Po, near the border with Ghana, a French diplomatic official said on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the situation.

The outgoing president was still in Burkina Faso on Friday afternoon, and it was not clear if he was trying to cross the border, the official said. He had not asked the French, who were once the country’s colonial rulers, for any help.

Burkina Faso hosts French special forces and serves as an important ally of both France and the United States in the fight against Islamic militants in West Africa.

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies