Burkina military leader vows to step aside as world watches

Reuters News
Posted: Nov 04, 2014 8:21 AM

By Mathieu Bonkoungou and Nadoun Coulibaly

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Burkina Faso's new military ruler has pledged to hand power to a civilian transitional government, an influential tribal ruler said on Tuesday, a day before a trio of West African leaders was due in Ouagadougou to press the army to relinquish power.

The military appointed Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida, the deputy commander of the elite presidential guard, as provisional head of state on Saturday, a day after longtime president Blaise Compaore stepped down and fled to neighboring Ivory Coast.

Compaore resigned on Friday following two days of mass protests sparked by his bid to extend his 27-year rule by amending the constitution.

In the chaos that followed, the army's move to take control of the transition drew criticism from opposition politicians and international partners.

Zida said on Monday he would quickly transfer power to a consensus government in line with Burkina Faso's constitution. On Tuesday, he met with the influential king of the country's majority Mossi ethnic group, Naba Baongo II, who said he had pledged to step aside.

"Lieutenant-Colonel Zida and his delegation came to say that they want to hand power over to civilians and we encourage them to move in this direction," the traditional leader told reporters. "The country must regain its peace and calm."

Zida also met with the head of the constitutional court, which could guide talks on the establishment of a transitional authority that would comply with the national charter.

The African Union on Monday set a two-week deadline for the army to leave power or face sanctions. It dispatched a senior official to the capital Ouagadougou in a delegation that also included the United Nations and regional bloc ECOWAS.

Opposition leader Zepherin Diabre told journalists after meeting the delegation that Senegalese President Macky Sall, Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and Ghana's John Mahama, who holds ECOWAS's rotating presidency, would travel to Ouagadougou on Wednesday.

"We're already working in the aim of respecting the deadline," Diabre said on Tuesday. "If we don't manage, perhaps (the African Union) will understand," he added, suggesting the opposition might accept an extension to the deadline.

Nigerian officials confirmed Jonathan's participation in the mediation effort and Mahama tweeted from his official Twitter account that he would travel to Burkina Faso. Senegalese officials could not immediately confirm if Sall would join them.

Robert Sangare, director general of the Yalgado Ouedraogo hospital, said on Tuesday that at least 7 people had died and 180 were wounded since Thursday's protests began.

The streets of the capital were calm for a second straight day as Burkinabes awaited the outcome of the different rounds of consultations.

"President Blaise is gone. I think we must unite for the future of our country," said Alphonse Ouadreogo, a local merchant. "The soldiers must hand power over to civilians so we can have a peaceful transition."

(Reporting by Nadoun Coulibaly; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Catherine Evans)