Burkina Faso’s president, Blaise Compaore, returned to the presidential palace after fleeing a mutiny by his presidential guard last night. Gunshots could still be heard today in the capital, Ouagadougou, residents said.
Campaore plans to begin a dialogue with soldiers and civilian protesters who have sought an end to his 24-year rule, Erik Solheim, Norway’s minister for the environment and international cooperation, said today after meeting with Compaore in Ouagadougou. Government officials including army spokesman Moussa Cisse declined to comment.
“He promised me that he would make every effort to meet with the military, the demonstrators, the students and the unions to discuss things,” Solheim told reporters at the presidential palace. Solheim had originally traveled to Burkina Faso to discuss the political crisis in neighboring Ivory Coast.
Burkina Faso, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest cotton producer, has been in turmoil since February, when five people were killed during demonstrations against the police following the death of a student in their custody. Ten people were injured after soldiers in Ouagadougou protested a court decision sentencing officers to prison.
“It may be the end of Blaise Compaore’s rule,” said David Zounmenou, researcher for the African conflict prevention program at Pretoria-based Institute for Security Studies. “The youth are inspired by what is happening in North Africa and you add to this the unhappiness within the army. He might have to think about a transition.”
Last night soldiers looted shops and burned the house of the army chief of staff, General Gilbert Diendiere, Agence France-Presse said, citing city residents.
“There is firing in Gounghin near Camp Sangoule Lamizana” in the western part of the city, Jean Zoegmore, a Ouagadougou resident, said in a phone interview today.
A government statement read on state television at 1 p.m. local time said the soldiers were protesting about their housing alliance and food rations.
“The government reassures the people that steps are being taken right now to resolve this situation and expresses its regret and compassion for all those who have suffered harm,” according to the statement.
On March 30, Compaore called for talks with the military and promised “justice” for students killed in demonstrations. Judges went on strike this month and schools and the university have been closed for weeks, said Rinaldo Depagne, a West Africa analyst with International Crisis Group.
“For 10 days he’s been trying to find an agreement with many angry people, including not only soldiers but also students and others,” Depagne said in a phone interview from Dakar. “What was special about yesterday’s riot is for the first time it was the presidential guard who are revolting.”
Compaore has had strong relations with the U.S. and France, even though he supported rebels in nearby Sierra Leone during that country’s civil war in the 1990s, Depagne said. He also has close ties with Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi and Ivory Coast’s president, Alassane Ouattara, he said.
Compaore was elected to a four-year term in November, winning 80.2 percent of the vote in an election disputed by opposition parties.
Burkina Faso, which borders Mali, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Togo, Benin and Niger, ranks 161st out of 169 nations on the United Nations Human Development Index, a broad measure of economic and social well-being.