OUAGADOUGOU: The African Union suspended Burkina Faso and slapped sanctions on the leaders of its military coup Friday as troops fired in the air to stop protesters from marching on the capital’s Revolution Square.
The 54-member bloc also imposed a travel ban and asset freeze on the junta’s leaders, with Uganda’s representative denouncing the kidnapping of Burkina’s interim leaders on Wednesday by an elite army unit loyal to deposed former president Blaise Compaore as a “terrorist” act.
“All measures taken by those who took power by force in Burkina Faso are null and void,” Kenya’s AU ambassador AU Mull Katende added.
The strong AU reaction came as Senegalese President Macky Sall, chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), and Benin President Thomas Boni Yayi arrived in Ouagadougou in a bid to end the crisis.
They immediately met with coup leader General Gilbert Diendere — Compaore’s former chief of staff — for talks.
As they arrived, members of the elite presidential unit that spearheaded the coup fired in the air to disperse protestors who were trying to march on Revolution Square, the epicentre of a popular uprising that overthrew Compaore in October 2014.
He was forced to flee the country after trying to extend his 27-year rule over the impoverished west African nation.
Compaore’s Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) formally seized power on Thursday after complaining that the transitional government, led by interim president Michel Kafando, was excluding the ex-president’s supporters from the upcoming October 11 polls.
But coup leaders released Kafando and two ministers Friday — saying this was “a sign of easing tensions” — but prime minister Isaac Zida, a former officer in the RSP, remained under house arrest.
‘Brutal and murderous’
Anti-coup protests have spread to several cities and towns. In the country’s economic capital Bobo-Dioulasso, women gathered on Friday holding spatulas and brooms — symbols of the Balai Citoyen (“Civic Broom”) movement at the forefront of last year’s anti-Compaore protests — showing they wanted to clean up the country’s politics.
Burkina Faso had been preparing to hold its first democratic election in decades before the coup threw the nascent democracy into turmoil.
The international community has unanimously condemned the coup, with the UN, AU, European Union, ECOWAS, the United States, and former colonial power France denouncing the junta.
Parties opposed to Compaore on Friday demanded the restoration of the transitional authorities and urged that elections be held in October as planned.
The parties, led by former presidential favourite Roch Marc Christian Kabore, called for a campaign of civil disobedience and an immediate end to the coup leaders’ “brutal and murderous oppression”.