FRANCE president Francois Hollande on Thursday condemned the “coup d’etat” in Burkina Faso but said he saw “no reason” for French troops based in the west African country to intervene in its former colony, even as the coup author said seized leaders would be released.
Members of the presidential guard have detained the former French colony’s interim leader and senior government members less than a month before the first elections since last year’s ousting of longtime leader Blaise Compaore.
On Thursday, General Gilbert Diendere told French magazine Jeune Afrique that the interim president and prime minister who have been arrested were in good health and would be released.
Diendere said the coup was launched by the presidential guard because of the “serious pre-election security situation” as the west African nation prepares for its first polls since longtime leader Blaise Compaore was overthrown last year.
Diendere, Compaore’s former chief-of-staff, said that acting president Michel Kafando and his prime minister Isaac Zida had been put under house arrest. “They are doing well and will be released,” he said.
He said elections would be held later, without saying when.
In Paris, Hollande weighed in. “I strongly condemn this coup d’etat because an electoral process was under way and the dates had been fixed,” he told reporters after visiting a university outside Paris.
“I call on these groups to immediately stop what they are doing,” Hollande said. “France has friendly relations with Burkina Faso and we cannot just allow what is happening today,” he added.
The president said however that the 220 French troops currently based in the capital Ouagadougou as part of a regional force fighting jihadists in west Africa “have no reason to intervene”.
France’s foreign ministry has urged French nationals in Burkina Faso to remain in their homes.
The presidential guard’s Lieutenant-Colonel Mamadou Bamba appeared on national television Thursday to declare that a new “National Democratic Council” had put an end “to the deviant regime of transition” in the west African state.
Announcing the coup, Bamba said that “wide-ranging talks” were being held to form a government leading to “inclusive and peaceful elections”.
Zida was himself once an officer in Compaore’s powerful Presidential Security Regiment (RSP), before he toppled his old boss after days of street protests in October 2014.
Interim parliament speaker Cheriff Sy denounced what he said was a “coup d’Etat”, and in a interview with RFI radio Thursday called on the people to “immediately rise up”.
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.
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”.
Ban Ki-moon also said he was “outraged” by the developments. “This incident is a flagrant violation of Burkina Faso’s constitution and transitional charter,” he said.
Outbursts of gunfire
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 of the move by the elite troops spread, with the headquarters of Compaore’s Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP) party ransacked.
Sy called the detention of the president and prime minister “a serious attack on the republic”. “I call on all patriots to mobilise to defend the motherland,” he said, in comment late Wednesday.
Compaore fled into exile in Ivory Coast after an uprising triggered by his attempt to extend his 27-year rule.
Supporters of Compaore are 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.
Diendere alluded to this in his interview, saying he had taken action as a result of “the exclusion measures taken by transitional authorities”.
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”.
The RSP sparked a brief political crisis in June by demanding the resignation of Zida, an army lieutenant-colonel and number two in the powerful regiment, who had publicly called for the unit to be dissolved in the interest of national security.
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.
On the ground, the Balai Citoyen (“Civic Broom”) movement, which was at the forefront of last year’s anti-Compaore protests, called for protesters to gather to “say no to the coup d’Etat under way”, an appeal that was shared widely on social networks..