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Hind Al Soulia - Riyadh - OUAGADOUGOU — Burkina Faso’s self-declared leader says the man he ousted a day ago in a coup is plotting a counter-attack.
Col. Ibrahim Traoré also accused the French army of harboring Lt Col Paul-Henri Damiba at one of its bases — but France denies any involvement.
Gunshots have been heard in Burkina Faso’s capital city Ouagadougou and helicopters have circled overhead.
Witnesses say troops have blocked main roads around the city and shops that had opened earlier are now shut.
Demonstrators started a fire outside the French embassy in Ouagadougou, Radio France International (RFI) reported on Saturday.
The gate of the French Institute in the second city, Bobo-Dioulasso, was also set ablaze by protesters, RFI added.
Friday’s apparent takeover had been announced on national TV and was the second time this year that the country’s army had seized power.
On both occasions the coup leaders said they had to step in because national security was so dire.
Burkina Faso controls as little as 60% of its territory, experts say, and extermists violence is worsening. Since 2020 more than a million people have been displaced in the country due to the violence.
The African Union has demanded the return of constitutional order by July 2023 at the latest, agreeing with the regional group ECOWAS that the ousting of leader Lt. Col. Damiba was “unconstitutional”.
ECOWAS earlier said it was “inappropriate” for army rebels to seize power when the country was working towards civilian rule.
The latest international criticism has come from the UN, whose chief António Guterres said he “strongly condemns” the coup.
For the second time in under 24 hours the coup leaders have issued a statement on national TV, signed by their leader Col. Ibrahim Traoré.
This time they claimed Lt. Col. Damiba was planning a counter-attack because of their own willingness to work with new partners in their fight against the extremists.
The statement did not name these potential new partners, but rights groups say troops in neighboring Mali have been working closely with Russian mercenaries from the Wagner group — although both nations deny this.
On Friday evening flanked by rebel soldiers in fatigues and black facemasks, an officer had read an announcement on national TV stating that they were kicking out Lt. Col. Damiba, dissolving the government and suspending the constitution.
That statement was also read on behalf of an army captain called Col. Traoré, who said Lt. Col. Damiba’s inability to deal with an insurgency was to blame. “Our people have suffered enough, and are still suffering”, he said.
Little is known about Col Traoré, the 34-year-old soldier who led an anti-extremist unit in the north called Cobra.
His statement effectively declared himself the interim leader of Burkina Faso. But in Friday’s announcement came the promise that the “driving forces of the nation” would in time be brought together to appoint a new civilian or military president and a new “transitional charter”.
Lt. Col. Damiba’s junta overthrew an elected government in January citing a failure to halt terrorists attacks, and he himself told citizens “we have more than what it takes to win this war.”
But his administration has also not been able to quell the violence. Analysts told the BBC recently that insurgents were encroaching on territory, and military leaders had failed in their attempts to bring the military under a single unit of command.
On Monday, 11 soldiers were killed when they were escorting a convoy of civilian vehicles in Djibo in the north of the country.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” by events in Burkina Faso and encouraged its citizens to limit movements in the country. France issued a similar warning to its more than 4,000 citizens living in the capital city Ouagadougou.
“We call for a return to calm and restraint by all actors,” a US State Department spokesperson said.
In January, Lt. Col. Damiba ousted President Roch Kaboré, saying that he had failed to deal with growing militant Islamist violence.
But many citizens do not feel any safer and there have been protests in different parts of the country this week.
On Friday afternoon, some protesters took to the capital’s streets calling for the removal of Lt. Col. Damiba. The country has experienced eight successful coups since independence in 1960.
The European Union on Saturday denounced the new coup in Burkina Faso after soldiers announced on Friday night that they have overthrown the Burkina Faso military government in the country’s second coup this year.
EU High Representative Josep Borrell in a Declaration on behalf of the 27-bloc said the coup jeopardizes the efforts undertaken for several months, in particular by ECOWAS, (Economic Community of West African States) to supervise the Transition.
The EU called for compliance with the commitments made, which formed the basis of the agreement reached with ECOWAS on July 3, in order to support Burkina Faso towards a return to constitutional order no later than July 1, 2024.
The EU also deplored the deterioration of the security and humanitarian situation in the country, and said it remains at the side of the people of Burkina Faso in these difficult times. — BBC
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