Gunfire and blasts in Burkina Faso capital raise fears of another coup

OUAGADOUGOU, Sept 30 (Reuters) – Soldiers took to the streets of Burkina Faso’s capital on Friday and blocked access to administrative buildings after gunfire rang out and a blast was heard near the presidential palace, raising fears of a second military coup in eight months.

Gunshots were first heard around dawn at the main military camp in Ouagadougou and in some residential areas, Reuters reporters said. Then came the blast near the palace. State television stopped broadcasting.

By mid morning, the city, usually buzzing with motorbikes and cars, was quiet. Military vehicles were stationed along deserted streets. Schools, businesses and banks were shut.

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The US Embassy urged American citizens to limit their movement.

A government spokesman could not be reached.

It was not clear yet if the gunfire and blast were part of a coup attempt, but security sources say there has been frustration within the military at a lack of progress in combating Islamist militants.

A junta led by Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba took power in Burkina Faso in a coup on Jan. 24.

The latest unrest bore the hallmarks of other power grabs that have swept across West and Central Africa over the past two years, undoing decades of democratic progress.

The coups have been driven in part by violence committed by Islamist groups who have taken over large areas of northern Burkina Faso and parts of neighboring Mali and Niger.

Civilian populations have cheered military juntas in the vain hope that they would be more successful at containing the insurgents than their democratically-elected predecessors.

“If successful, it would mark the sixth unconstitutional takeover in the Sahel in the past two years,” said Eric Humphery-Smith, Senior Africa Analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft.

“If it isn’t, it’s still a damning indictment for the state of democracy in the region.”

ANOTHER BLOW?

Junta leader Damiba’s whereabouts were unknown on Friday. His government had been expected to hold a press conference on Friday afternoon to brief the media on the security situation.

His January takeover was largely celebrated by civilians fed up with the inability to form President Roch Kabore’s civilian government to rein in militants linked to Islamic State and al Qaeda. The militants have killed thousands of civilians in Burkina Faso in recent years.

Damiba, often seen in public in military fatigues and aviator sunglasses, pledged to restore security.

But attacks in the impoverished West African country have worsened and the army is in disarray. The rank and file, which gave Damiba their support in January, have grown frustrated, security sources say.

PROTESTS

This week, unknown assailants killed 11 soldiers in an attack on a 150-vehicle convoy taking supplies to a town in northern Burkina Faso. Fifty civilians are missing. read more

Activists have blocked areas of the north, leaving communities stranded. Government convoys and air drops deliver essential goods to trapped civilians.

Meanwhile, many cities and towns not under siege have seen their populations swell as people flee the violence from the countryside. Health systems are stretched. Drought has led to high levels of malnutrition.

Protests against the military have cropped up in cities across Burkina Faso this week, including one in the northern town of Kaya on Saturday, to demand that the government do more to improve the security situation.

Much of the country has become ungovernable since 2018. Millions have fled their homes, fearing further raids by gunmen who frequently descend on rural communities on motorbikes.

Burkina Faso has become the epicenter of the violence that began in neighboring Mali in 2012 but which has since spread across the arid expanse of the Sahel region south of the Sahara Desert.

As well as Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, and Guinea have all seen coups since 2020, raising fears about a backslide towards military rule in a region that has made democratic progress in recent decades.

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Writing by Edward McAllister and Bate Felix, Editing by Angus MacSwan, William Maclean and Toby Chopra

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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