Burkina Faso army pledges consensus government

OUAGADOUGOU  (AFP) - Burkina Faso’s military promised on Monday to hand power to a “consensus” leader following the popular uprising that toppled Blaise Compaore, as African nations gave the regime two weeks to return to civilian rule.

The army has stepped into a power vacuum left by Compaore, who was forced to resign last week in the wake of violent demonstrations over attempts to extend his 27-year-rule.

The Burkina military has named Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida as interim head of state, sparking angry protests and prompting threats of sanctions from the international community.  Zida has claimed that “power does not interest us” and pledged to install a unity government with a “broad consensus”.

But the African Union kept the pressure on, setting a 14-day deadline at a crisis meeting in Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on Monday for Burkina’s military to give up power.

“After that period we are going to apply sanctions,” said Simeon Oyono Esono, head of the AU’s Peace and Security Council.  “The African Union is convinced that the change has been against democracy.”

Washington said it was still “gathering facts” on the situation but could yet withdraw its US$14 million (S$18 million) annual aid package to Burkina Faso.  

Former colonial power France said late Monday it hoped for an announcement on the return of civilian rule “in the coming hours”.

For elections to be held, “it must be a civilian power that does it", said French President Francois Hollande on the sidelines of a visit to Quebec.

Hollande also said France had been in direct contact with Compaore prior to his ouster last week. “I made a statement on Friday asking Blaise Compaore to make the right decision, that is to leave,” said Hollande, adding that France had intervened to ensure he escaped “without drama” although its personnel did not directly participate.

Compaore and his wife have taken refuge in neighbouring Ivory Coast where they are being put up in a luxury government mansion in the capital Yamoussoukro.

- ‘Shortest time possible’ -

Zida promised the new government would be “headed by a person appointed by the consensus of all actors in public life", as he addressed diplomats at the foreign office on Monday.  He gave no timetable for the transition but said he wanted a new regime in place within the “shortest possible” period.

Following protests against the army takeover on Sunday, life was back to normal on Monday in the capital Ouagadougou, with the largest market ending a six-day shutdown and banks open. The army also reopened the landlocked country’s borders.  

Troops had cracked down on several thousand protesters gathered at a rally in the city’s central square on Sunday.  Some demonstrators had also headed to the national television station headquarters where two opposition leaders made separate attempts to go on air to declare themselves interim chief.

Former defence minister Kouame Lougue – whose name was chanted by thousands in the streets following Compaore’s downfall – told AFP: “The people have nominated me. I came to answer their call.”

But the TV technicians walked out, also foiling a bid by Saran Sereme, a former member of the ruling party, to make her claim as leader of the transition.  

Under the constitution, which has been suspended by the military, the job of interim head of state is supposed to go to the speaker of parliament.  

One opposition leader, Ablasse Ouedrago, claimed to have held talks with Zida in which the army leader declared himself ready to “lift the suspension of the constitution”.  But there was no confirmation from the army, and no indication of the whereabouts of the speaker of parliament.