By Emma Farge and Elizabeth Pineau
DAKAR (Reuters) - French President Francois Hollande warned African leaders on Saturday against trying to hang on to power, praising peaceful political transitions in Burkina Faso and Tunisia as positive examples to the continent.
Addressing African heads of state at the opening of a two-day summit of Francophone nations in the Senegalese capital Dakar, Hollande also said that France would continue to support regional efforts to fight Islamic militants.
Massive street protests toppled Burkinabe President Blaise Compaore in late October when he attempted to push through constitutional change to prolong his 27-year rule. His overthrow spurred talk of an 'African Spring' in the image of the uprisings in several Arab nations.
"The example of Burkina Faso should give a pause for thought to those who would like to stay in power by violating the constitutional order, as it is the people who decide what is legitimate and what is not," said Hollande.
Hollande urged Burkina Faso's transitional authorities, mandated to guide the West African nation to elections next year, to concentrate on reconciliation and to avoid settling scores with members of Compaore's regime.
Hollande took the stage shortly after a speech by Democratic Republic of Congo's President Joseph Kabila, who opponents accuse of seeking to stay on after his second and final term expires in 2016. Kabila has declined to comment.
A member of the Congolese delegation said Western nations should let Africa undertake political change in its own way.
"Burkina is not a model for other countries. Each country has its own reality and it is nuanced," Collin Kandolo told Reuters. "The French president is president of France and not of Congo and that needs to be respected."
Hollande also lauded Tunisia - which will complete a democratic transition with the second round of presidential polls next month - as a successful example of the Arab spring.
Outgoing Tunisian Prime Minister Mehdi Jomaa told Reuters that the conclusion of the peaceful transition and the formation of a new government should encourage a return of foreign investment in key sectors such as agriculture and tourism.
In the wake of an attack by suspected members of Islamist sect Boko Haram that killed at least 81 people at a mosque in northern Nigeria on Friday, Hollande expressed his condolences to the victims and pledged support.
"We must together, now and forever, fight against terrorism," he said. France has some 3,000 troops deployed in Operation Barkhane battling Islamist militants in the Sahel.
Cameroonian President Paul Biya called for greater African solidarity in fighting the militants in northern Nigeria, which borders the west of his own country. Cameroon has sent hundreds of troops to battle Boko Haram in the border region.
(Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Rosalind Russell)