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Burkina army dismisses coup claim

By Olympia de Maismont with Pierre Donadieu in Abidjan
Burkina Faso A military vehicle sits outside the Burkina Faso national television offices in Ouagadougou on Saturday.  By OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT AFP
OCT 2, 2022 LISTEN
A military vehicle sits outside the Burkina Faso national television offices in Ouagadougou on Saturday. By OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT (AFP)

Burkina Faso's army Saturday dismissed a claim by junior officers that they had seized power in the West African country as an "internal crisis", as foreign leaders voiced deep concern over a reported coup.

Junior officers toppled a junta leader on Friday, saying he had failed to fight jihadist attacks, in the second coup this year in the restive West African country.

In its first reaction since late Friday, the army's general staff however appeared not to recognise the coup.

"Following an internal crisis within the national armed forces, a few units have taken control of some arteries of the city of Ouagadougou, demanding the departure of Lieutenant-Colonel (Paul-Henri Sandaogo) Damiba," it said in a statement.

"Dialogue is ongoing," it added.

The army officers who seized power said in televised comments earlier that Damiba was planning a counteroffensive from a "French base".

Burkina Faso.  By  AFP Burkina Faso. By (AFP)

Damiba "is believed to have taken refuge in the French base at Kamboinsin in order to plan a counter-offensive to stir up trouble in our defence and security forces," they said in a statement read out on national television and signed by Captain Ibrahim Traore, the country's new strongman.

France, the former colonial power in Burkina Faso, denied any involvement.

An hour before the televised comments by the military figures who overthrew Damiba, the French embassy issued a statement "firmly denying any involvement of the French army in the events of the last few hours".

The embassy also denied "rumours that Burkinabe authorities have been hosted or are under the protection of French military".

'Refrain from violence'

Among a wave of international condemnation, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres "strongly condemns any attempt to seize power by the force of arms and calls on all actors to refrain from violence and seek dialogue," his spokesman said in a statement Saturday.

"Burkina Faso needs peace, stability and unity to fight terrorist groups and criminal networks operating in parts of the country," the UN statement added.

Damiba himself came to power in a coup in January.

Ousted leader Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, pictured in March.  By OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT AFPFile Ousted leader Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, pictured in March. By OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT (AFP/File)

He installed himself as leader of the country of 16 million after accusing elected president Roch Marc Christian Kabore of failing to beat back jihadist fighters.

With much of the Sahel region battling a growing Islamist insurgency, the violence has prompted a series of coups in Mali, Guinea and Chad since 2020.

According to the new Burkina putschists, the actions by Damiba and the French forces are in response to their willingness "to go to other partners ready to help in the fight against terrorism".

No country was explicitly mentioned but Russia, whose influence is growing in French-speaking Africa, is among the possible partners in question.

France has a military presence in Burkina Faso, with a contingent of special forces based in Kamboinsin which is some 30 kilometres (19 miles) from the capital Ouagadougou.

Confusion reigns in Ouagadougou

The situation in the capital Ouagadougou was tense on Saturday, with gunfire and soldiers deployed in the streets, raising fears of clashes between Damiba's supporters and the country's new strongmen.

Helicopters hovered above the city and shops that had opened for business in the morning shut their doors.

Late Saturday a French government spokeswoman strongly condemned "violence" against its embassy, after an AFP reporter said he saw a fire burning outside the building in Ouagadougou in the afternoon.

Witnesses said a fire also broke out in front of the French Institute in the western city of Bobo-Dioulasso.

African Union chief Moussa Faki Mahamat condemned the "unconstitutional change of government" in Burkina Faso, calling for the restoration of the constitutional order by July 2024.

Troops are still guarding the national television centre after Burkina Faso's second coup this year.  By Olympia DE MAISMONT AFP Troops are still guarding the national television centre after Burkina Faso's second coup this year. By Olympia DE MAISMONT (AFP)

The European Union warned that the latest coup put in danger efforts undertaken to restore constitutional order by that same date.

The Economic Community of West African States regional bloc also "condemned in the strongest possible terms" the latest seizure of power, calling it "inappropriate."

The US government said Saturday it was "deeply concerned" by events in the country.

Damiba accused of failure

Just before 8:00 pm (2000 GMT) on Friday, more than a dozen soldiers in fatigues appeared on the state television and radio broadcaster to announce the removal of Damiba.

They proclaimed 34-year-old Captain Traore in charge.

Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba came to power in a January coup after overthrowing Burkina's elected president.  By OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT AFPFile Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba came to power in a January coup after overthrowing Burkina's elected president. By OLYMPIA DE MAISMONT (AFP/File)

"Damiba failed. Since he came to power, the zones that were peaceful were attacked. He took power but then he betrayed us," Habibata Rouamba, a trader and activist said on Saturday.

The new leaders suspended the constitution, sealed the borders, dissolved the transitional government and legislative assembly and instituted a 9:00 pm to 5:00 am curfew.

New strongman Traore was previously head of anti-jihadist special forces unit "Cobra" in the northern region of Kaya.

More than 40 percent of the country remains outside government control.

In the north and east, towns have been blockaded by insurgents who have blown up bridges and attacked supply convoys.

As in bordering countries, insurgents affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have stoked unrest.

Thousands have died and about two million have been displaced by the fighting since 2015 when the insurgency spread to Burkina Faso, which has since become the epicentre of the violence across the Sahel.

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