Burkina government calls for calm after overnight gunfire

Reuters News
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Posted: Mar 23, 2011 12:09 PM
Burkina government calls for calm after overnight gunfire

By Mathieu Bonkoungou

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Gunfire rocked the Burkina Faso capital for several hours overnight on Wednesday in what an army source said was a protest by soldiers against recent arrests of their colleagues.

Calm returned after more than three hours of shooting coming from two military camps, one in Ouagadougou and one on its outskirts, but several service stations were pillaged and the streets were mainly deserted in the afternoon.

Defense Minister Yero Boly called for calm later in the day but did not give an explanation for the incident, which he said had left about a dozen people injured.

"(The government) reassures people that all steps have been taken with all the various actors to ensure normality is restored," Boly said.

A source at army headquarters said soldiers had been angered by the arrest and jailing of five colleagues found guilty of attacking a civilian when an argument went out of control.

"They think the prison terms were too heavy and they were protesting," said the source, referring to the sentences up to 18 months.

Boly called on residents to go about their business as normal but the streets were mostly deserted in the early afternoon and all administrative buildings and the shops in the main market were closed.

State television denied reports that a curfew had been put in place.

Such army protests are rare in the poor, cotton-producing West African state, ruled with a firm grip by President Blaise Compaore since he seized power in a 1987 coup. He was re-elected last November with a landslide 80 percent of the vote.

A landlocked country of 15 million people, Burkina Faso has been benefiting from high commodity prices.

While it has avoided much of the instability seen in the region, especially in neighboring Ivory Coast, it closed its universities this month after protests over the death of a student following a spell in police custody. Six people died and public buildings torched in the student demonstrations.

(Writing by David Lewis and Bate Felix; Editing by Richard Valdmanis and Mark Heinrich)