‘Situation under control,’ Burkina Faso coup leader says

Protesters target France’s embassy and march in Ouagadougou carrying the Russian flag, believing Moscow can help the Burkinabe army defeat armed groups.

Fire is seen at the French Embassy in Ouagadougou
Fire is seen at the French embassy during a demonstration by supporters of Burkina Faso's new leader Ibrahim Traore in Ouagadougou [Vincent Bado/Reuters]

Burkina Faso’s new military leadership said the situation in the country was under control and urged people to refrain from acts of vandalism targeting the French embassy.

The comments came on Sunday after security forces fired tear gas at dozens of rock-throwing protesters outside France’s embassy in Burkina Faso’s capital, as unrest simmers in the West African nation following its second coup this year.

Supporters of the coup leader gathered outside the building in Ouagadougou a day after he accused the deposed military chief Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba of hiding out at a French base to plot a “counteroffensive”.

“We want to inform the population that the situation is under control and order is being restored,” military spokesman Captain Kiswendsida Farouk Azaria Sorgho said on national television. He was flanked by coup leader Captain Ibrahim Traore and other armed and masked soldiers.

Sorgho called on people to “desist from any act of violence and vandalism … especially those that could be perpetrated against the French embassy or the French military base”.

With French troops watching from the embassy’s roof, protesters set fire to barriers outside and lobbed rocks at the structure when the tear gas volleys were fired.

The latest spasm of violence to convulse Burkina Faso began on Friday when junior military officers toppled Damiba, accusing him of failing to quell attacks from armed groups linked to ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda. Damiba had come to power in a January coup.

A statement on Saturday signed by Traore said Damiba “is believed to have taken refuge in the French base at Kamboinsin in order to plan a counteroffensive to stir up trouble in our defence and security forces”.

Later on Saturday, Damiba rejected the allegations that he was at a French base but provided no further details about his whereabouts.

France, which colonised Burkina Faso in the past, denied “any involvement” in the coup or that “Burkinabe authorities have been hosted or are under the protection of the French military”.

“The camp where the French forces are located has never welcomed Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, nor has our embassy,” the French foreign ministry said in a statement.

It marked the second coup this year in Burkina Faso and the latest in the Sahel region, much of which is battling a growing military operation by armed groups.

“There has been international condemnation from France, the United Nations, the African Union, and the West African body ECOWAS – all calling for soldiers to return to their barracks,” said Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque, speaking from Dakar in neighbouring Senegal.

Photo shows a crowd of Burkinabe protesters on a tree-lined street in Ouagadougou
A man holds a Russian flag during a demonstration in Ouagadougou [Vincent Bado/Reuters]

There have also been mounting protests in support of the coup plotters, he added. Protesters marched in Ouagadougou carrying the Russian flag, believing that Moscow can bring victory to the Burkinabe army that is facing setbacks on the battlefront.

In a written statement on the presidency’s official Facebook page, Damiba urged his rivals “to come to their senses to avoid a fratricidal war that Burkina Faso doesn’t need”.

The general staff of Burkina Faso’s army dismissed the coup as an “internal crisis” within the military and said dialogue was “ongoing” to remedy the situation.

Damiba himself came to power in a coup in January, installing himself as leader of the country’s 16 million people after accusing elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore of failing to beat back armed fighters.

Burkina Faso
Supporters of Burkina Faso’s self-declared new leader Ibrahim Traore hold a Russian flag in Ouagadougou [Vincent Bado/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies