Burkina Faso presidential guard seize president and PM

Reuters News
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Posted: Sep 16, 2015 2:14 PM

By Nadoun Coulibaly

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Soldiers from Burkina Faso's powerful presidential guard burst into a cabinet meeting on Wednesday and "took hostage" the president, prime minister and senior ministers, in the latest attempt by the elite unit to control a transitional government.

The presidential guard gave no explanation for the move, which was confirmed by the head of parliament. It came just two days after a government commission recommended dismantling the force and less than a month before an Oct. 11 presidential election.

The guard, known as the RSP, was a key pillar of President Blaise Compaore's rule before he was toppled by demonstrations in October when he attempted to change the constitution to seek a new term after 27 years in power in the West African country.

Compaore, who seized power in a 1987 military coup, transformed his landlocked and impoverished nation of 17 million people into a regional ally of France and the United States in the fight against Islamists in the arid Sahel region.

Moumina Cheriff Sy, the head of the transitional parliament, said in a statement: "Members of the RSP burst into the room of the cabinet of ministers at around 1430 and took hostage the president of Burkina Faso, the head of state, Michel Kafando, the Prime Minister Yacouba Izaac Zida, and the minister of public administration ... and the minister of housing."

Military sources had earlier said the whole cabinet had been detained but witnesses at the presidential palace suggested that some ministers were subsequently released by the soldiers.

A senior adviser to the head of the transitional parliament said that its members would march on the presidential palace to demand the release of the president and ministers.

"Duty calls us because the Burkinabe nation is in danger," Sy said. "This latest intervention by elements of the presidential guard is a serious attack on the republic and its institutions. I call on all patriots to mobilize and defend the motherland."

ELECTION DUE

Leaders of the Balai Citoyen, a citizens movement which was instrumental in organizing the protests against Compaore in October, called its supporters to protest in the central Independence Square.

Sy said that talks were taking place between the senior military officials and members of the RSP.

Burkina Faso is due to go to the polls on Oct. 11 to elect a new president from a field dominated by former members of Compaore's rule.

A French security source said that around 20 soldiers from an intelligence gathering unit were being deployed to Ouagadougou to monitor the situation.

In a report submitted on Monday to the prime minister, himself a former commander in the presidential guard, the national reconciliation and reform commission had described the 1,200-strong unit as "an army within an army".

The RSP's repeated political meddling since Compaore's ousting, including attempts to force the prime minister's resignation over his plans to reduce its influence, has provoked street protests and prompted authorities to call for a review of the guard's role.

Monday's report recommended that the regiment be broken up and its members redeployed within the framework of a broader reform of the military.

(Additional reporting by Mathieu Bonkoungou; Writing by Daniel Flynn; Editing by Emma Farge and Alison Williams)