Burkina Faso Rulers Free Interim Leader After Meeting Envoys

Updated on
  • Senegalese President Macky Sall arrives to mediate crisis
  • Junta leader says prime minister is under house arrest

The military junta in Burkina Faso freed interim president Michel Kafando and two ministers as international pressure intensified on the army to end the crisis in Africa’s fourth-biggest gold producer and hold a presidential election next month as planned.

The releases came after members of the military council met African, European, United Nations and U.S. diplomats in the capital, Ouagadougou. Presidents Macky Sall of Senegal and Thomas Yayi Boni of Benin began mediation efforts Friday on behalf of the Economic Community of West African States. The African Union suspended the country’s membership of the bloc and called for all military and security cooperation to be frozen.

"There was such an immediate and overwhelming response from international
partners that we will probably see some concessions," Cailin Birch, an analyst with the Economist Intelligence Unit in London, said Friday by phone. "But it’s incredibly unlikely the elections will be held in the near term."

Democratic Turnaround

The coup marked a sharp reversal in Burkina Faso’s path to democracy after mass protests last year swept Blaise Compaore from power following his attempt to extend his almost three-decade rule. Junta leader Diendere served as Compaore’s army chief of staff. Diendere told reporters that transitional premier Isaac Zida remains under house arrest.

"Last year during the mass protests the military let the leader step aside
rather than preserve him in power in a way that was unique for west and
central Africa," Birch said. "The fact that it has been reversed is really a failed opportunity."

Shops and businesses remained closed Friday as sporadic gunfire rang out and troops patrolled the streets of Ouagadougou. Three people died of gunshot wounds and at least 60 were injured on Thursday, Robert Sangare, managing director of Yalgado Ouedraogo hospital, the largest medical facility in the capital, said by phone. Protesters disregarded a nighttime curfew in the country’s second-biggest city, Bobo Dioulasso.

General Gilbert Diendere

Photographer: Dia Kambou/AFP via Getty Images

The soldiers moved against the interim government three days after the Commission for National Reconciliation and Reforms, headed by Catholic Archbishop Paul Ouedraogo, submitted a report to the transitional government calling for the dismantling of the 1,200-member elite presidential guard, known by its French acronym RSP.

Toronto-based Iamgold Corp. and Roxgold Inc. mine gold in Burkina Faso, which is also Africa’s biggest cotton producer, according to the UN Food & Agriculture Organization. Subiaco, Australia-based Gryphon Minerals Ltd. and Montreal-based Semafo Inc. said Thursday their mining operations weren’t affected by the coup.

MAP: Burkina Faso