Violent Protests Topple Government in Burkina Faso

Herve Taoko et al., New York Times, October 30, 2014

The government of Burkina Faso collapsed on Thursday as demonstrators protesting President Blaise Compaoré’s plans to stay in office after 27 years surged through the streets of Ouagadougou, the capital, overrunning state broadcasters, setting fire to Parliament and burning the homes of the president’s relatives.

Authorities imposed martial law, according to a communiqué from the presidential palace.

After several hours of increasingly violent protests, a government spokesman announced that a bill to extend the term of Mr. Compaoré had been dropped, or at least delayed. Yet the protests continued, and later in the day, Mr. Compaoré announced that the government had been dissolved and promised more talks with the opposition “to end the crisis,” according to a statement read on a local radio station.

Still later, according to The Associated Press, he spoke briefly on television and vowed to remain in office.

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Gen. Honoré Nabéré Traoré, the chief of staff of Burkina Faso’s armed forces, said at a news conference Thursday night that a transitional authority would lead the country to new elections within 12 months. He did not say who would form the interim government. He also announced that a dusk-to-dawn curfew would take effect.

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Posts on social media sites had earlier shown images of a statue of Mr. Compaoré being toppled and dragged from its plinth. Television footage showed huge crowds coursing down broad thoroughfares of Ouagadougou (pronounced wah-gah-DOO-goo), some riding in hijacked vehicles, as armed police officers in pickup trucks retreated before them.

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At the presidential palace, soldiers fired live rounds and used tear gas to repel crowds seeking to storm the building, witnesses said. Several people were killed by gunfire, news reports said.

Elsewhere in the city, opposition leaders demanded the resignation of Mr. Compaoré, a former soldier who seized power in a coup and then won several elections, the most recent in November 2010.

There have been outbreaks of violence against Mr. Compaoré at least six other times since 1999, most recently in 2011, with government buildings defaced and protesters taking to the streets. Mr. Compaoré has always managed to stay in office through a combination of negotiation, conciliation and restrained use of firepower. But it was not clear whether his late afternoon concessions on Thursday would be enough this time.

“I’m pledging from today to open talks with all the actors to end the crisis,” Mr. Compaoré said in the statement broadcast on the radio, continuing his practice of rarely appearing in public, particularly in moments of crisis.

In a statement on Thursday, France, the colonial power that once ruled Burkina Faso and still has a special-forces base there, said it deplored the violence and urged calm.

France regards Mr. Compaoré as a crucial ally in its efforts to confront Islamic militants in the broader Sahel region with ties to Al Qaeda. Burkina Faso, formerly called Upper Volta, is home to about 3,600 French citizens.

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Initial reports said demonstrators had broken through police lines to take over the Parliament building and to prevent lawmakers from voting on the contentious proposal, which would have overturned a provision that limits the president to two terms.

Black smoke was later seen rising from the building. State-owned radio and television stations suspended broadcasts after demonstrators took over their headquarters, looting equipment, news reports said.

Protesters also set fire to cars and to the homes of several of Mr. Compaoré’s relatives and advisers, and to the offices of the governing party.

Three motionless bodies were seen in the street near the home of Mr. Compaoré’s brother, Reuters reported, after troops there fired live rounds and used tear gas as a crowd approached.

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