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Confusion reigns in Burkina Faso

November 1, 2014

The resignation of President Blaise Compaore after 27 years in office has set two rival army factions scrambling for control of the West African nation. Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida has announced he is in charge.

Burkina Faso Jubel nach dem Rücktritt des Präsidenten Compaore 31.10.2014
Image: AFP/Getty Images/I. Sanogo

Rival army factions were vying for control of the West African nation of Burkina Faso early Saturday morning, as Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida said he would take over as head of state despite military chief of staff Honore Traore proclaiming himself President earlier in the day.

"I assume from today the responsibilities of head of this transition and of head of state," Zida said in a statement broadcast on Radio Omega FM.

A resident living near the Presidential palace in Ouagadougou reported hearing heavy gunfire in the area in the time period leading up to Zida's proclamation.

The events early Saturday highlighted the confusion over just who was in charge of the country in the wake of President Blaise Compaore's decision to step down and make way for elections.

A president proclaimed

General Traore, seen as a close ally of Compaore, proclaimed himself the new president of the West African nation on Friday, just hours after Compaore resigned.

Burkina Faso Machtübernahme General Honore Traore Archiv 2011
Honore Traore announced on Friday that he would lead a transition after Compaore's resignationImage: AFP/GettyImages/A. Ouoba

"In line with constitutional measures, and given the power vacuum...I have decided that I will assume from this day the responsibility of the head of state," Traore told a news conference.

The army chief said he planned to have "consultations with all parties in the country so as to start the process of returning to the constitutional order" and restoring political stability.

The resignation of former President Compaore followed an escalation in violent protests in the capital Ouagadougou this week, with demonstrators demanding an immediate end to his 27-year reign.

In a statement read on local radio and television, 63-year-old Compaore said he was leaving power to allow for "a free and transparent election in 90 days."

Local media later reported that a heavily armed convoy, believed to be carrying the former leader, had been seen traveling south towards the town of Po near the border with Ghana.

Hundreds of thousands of people joined marches this week against Compaore's plans to amend the constitution - a bid to extend his term in office, instead of sticking to a pledge to step down next year. At the height of the unrest, demonstrators on Thursday stormed the parliament building in the capital and set fire to the main chamber.

Calls for swift elections

According to the West African nation's constitution, the head of the National Assembly should take office if the president steps down. But army head Traore dissolved the parliament on Thursday, before imposing martial law to restore order overnight.

A delegation from the African Union, the United Nations and Regional West African bloc ECOWAS was due to travel to Burkina Faso to hold talks on the situation with different political parties.

French President Francois Hollande called for "calm and restraint" in the former French colony, and urged for quick democratic elections to be held.

"France recalls its support for the constitution and thus for early, democratic elections," a statement from Hollande's office said.

Land-locked Burkina Faso gained independence in 1960 and is currently one of the world's poorest nations. Compaore, one of Africa's longest-serving leaders, had ruled the country since 1987, when he seized power in a coup.

nm/bw/jm (Reuters, dpa, AP, AFP)