Burkina Faso President Dissolves Government as Army Rampages

Burkina Faso’s president, Blaise Compaore, dismissed his government and replaced top military leaders after demonstrating soldiers fired in the air and looted parts of the capital, Ouagadougou.

General Dominique Djindjere, whose house was attacked March 30 by demonstrating soldiers, was replaced as army chief of staff by Colonel Honore Nabere Traore, according to a statement read on state television late yesterday. The head of Compaore’s presidential guard also lost his job.

Many businesses were closed today in the city as shop owners protested against looting by the soldiers. “They broke into shops to collect mobile phones, they took any kind of objects they could find,” said Morou Koala, a phone seller.

During their march in the city’s Koulouba district, the shop owners set fire to a bus, said Seydou Zangre, the head of an association of informal businesses. “We thought they were going to take measures for our security, but they did nothing,” Zangre said, referring to the dissolved government.

Burkina Faso, sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest cotton producer, has been in turmoil since student demonstrations in February against the death of a pupil in police custody. On March 22, soldiers protested a court decision sentencing officers to prison. Compaore, who took power in a 1987 coup, fled Ouagadougou April 14 after some members of his presidential guard mutinied, Agence France-Presse reported. He returned to the presidential palace yesterday.

Inequality and Repression

The government declared a 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew starting today, according to a decree read on state television.

“There is a long history in Burkina of high unemployment, economic inequality, closed politics and police repression,” David Shinn, a former U.S. ambassador to the country, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “Similar factors applied to Tunisia and Egypt,” where popular protests ousted longstanding rulers earlier this year.

After the announcement that Compaore dissolved his government, residents heard more gunfire around two military bases, while the area near the presidential guard was quiet.

Colonel Moussa Cisse, a spokesman for the army, declined to comment on the situation until Compaore announces the members of his new government, when contacted on his mobile phone today.

A government statement read on state television at 1 p.m. local time yesterday said the soldiers were protesting about their housing allowance and food rations.

Government’s ‘Regret’

“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.

Compaore was elected to a second five-year term in November, winning about 80 percent of the vote in an election disputed by opposition parties.

“It may be the end of Blaise Compaore’s rule,” David Zounmenou, a researcher for the African conflict prevention program at South Africa-based Institute for Security Studies, said of the uprisings. “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.”

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.

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