Clashes in Burkina Faso over move to extend leader's rule
Ouagadougou (AFP) - Stone-throwing youths clashed with security forces in Burkina Faso Tuesday before tens of thousands took to the streets in a mass demonstration against a move to let the country's long-serving president extend his rule beyond 30 years.
The pre-dawn violence kicked off a day of action called by the opposition against what they say is a constitutional coup by supporters of President Blaise Compaore.
Gendarmes in the capital Ouagadougou charged to disperse several dozen youths barricading the country's main highway, firing tear gas at the crowd who hurled stones in response, according to an AFP reporter at the scene.
A colourful crowd of tens of thousands later set off from the capital's main Nation square, blowing whistles and vuvuzela trumpets.
According to AFP's estimate, the early turnout was well above a previous mass protest in August that saw 100,000 people march against a move to prolong Compaore's 27-year-rule.
Protesters carried banners reading "Blaise Get Out!" or "Don't Touch Article 37" in reference to the constitutional term limit that risks being scrapped to allow the president to seek relection next year.
The National Assembly will on Thursday study a draft constitutional amendment that would extend the maximum number of presidential terms, and allow the president to run again next year.
The National Assembly will on Thursday study a proposed constitutional amendment that would extend the maximum number of presidential terms and allow the president to run again next year.
- 15 more years -
Compaore was only 36 when he seized power in an October 1987 coup in which his former friend and one of Africa's most loved leaders, Thomas Sankara, was ousted and assassinated.
He has remained in power since then, reelected president four times since 1991 -- to two seven-year and two five-year terms.
In 2005, constitutional limits were introduced and Compaore is therefore coming to the end of his second five-year term.
The opposition fears the new rules -- which are not expected to take previous terms into account -- would enable Compaore to seek reelection not just one, but three more times, paving the way for up to 15 more years in power.
The third largest party in Burkina Faso's parliament said at the weekend it would back the constitutional change, setting the ruling party on course to obtain the two-thirds majority it needs to make the change without resorting to a referendum as first promised.
Opposition leaders have called on the public to blockade parliament to prevent the review from taking place.
Protesters have erected barricades and burned tyres in the capital since the proposal was announced on October 21, with hundreds of women demonstrating with spatulas in their hands and secondary school children deserting classes to join the protests, creating major disruptions.
Civil society groups have also asked for the project to be dropped, saying the country risks being paralysed if the amendment goes through.
Compaore's bid to cling on to power has angered the opposition and much of the public, including many young people in a country where 60 percent of the population is under 25.
Many have spent their entire lives under the leadership of one man and -- with the poor former French colony stagnating at around 183rd out of 186 countries on the UN human development index -- many have had enough.