Africa

Burkina Faso: Heavy gunfire heard near president's house

Published : January 24, 2022 16:59 IST

Soldiers stand outside a military base in Burkina Faso's capital Ouagadougou. Photo: picture alliance / ASSOCIATED PRESS

Reports of gunfire came hours after mutinous soldiers fired weapons at several barracks in the capital, Ouagadougou.

Shots were heard late on January 23 in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, near the residence of President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, residents said. Local residents said a helicopter, with its lights off, flew over the Patte d'oie neighborhood, where the president's residence is located, at the time of the shooting.

Heavy gunfire at military camps

Earlier on January 23, heavy gunfire rang out from military camps in Burkina Faso, including two in Ouagadougou. Mutinous soldiers seized control of the Sangoule Lamizana camp, which houses the army's general staff and a prison whose inmates include soldiers involved in a failed 2015 coup attempt.

The gunfire sparked fears that a fresh coup attempt was underway after weeks of growing frustration with the government's handling of the Islamic insurgency wracking the country. The government had confirmed the gunfire from early on January 23 but denied social media reports that the army had seized power. "Information on social media would have people believe there was an army takeover," government spokesman Alkassoum Maiga said in a statement. "The government, while acknowledging that there was gunfire in some barracks, denies this information and calls on the public to remain calm."

Later on January 23, the government denied rumors that President Roch Marc Christian Kabore had been detained. "None of the Republic's institutions has been troubled at the present moment," Defense Minister Barthelemy Simpore told national TV, adding that there were "localized, limited" incidents "in a few barracks." The government announced on state television that a curfew would come into effect from 20:00 UTC on the night of January 23.

Gunfire started early on January 23

One soldier in a western suburb of the capital told AFP news agency that the gunfire had been heard since 1 a.m. local time (0100 UTC). Residents there also spoke of "increasingly heavy fire." Soldiers staged mutinies at another military camp in the south of the capital and an air base near the airport, military sources said. Residents told the AFP news agency they heard gunfire at barracks in two northern towns. The soldiers called for adequate resources to battle the insurgency against Islamist extremists, according to news agencies. They also demanded that top generals be "replaced", better care for injured troops and more support for the families of soldiers killed in battle.

Protests spurred by jihadist attacks, demand Kabore's resignation

Frustration over repeated jihadist attacks, and the government's inability to curb them, have sparked violent street protests in recent weeks. The government banned fresh demos on January 22, and the police intervened to disperse the hundreds of people who tried to assemble in Ouagadougou.

Later on January 23, protesters turned out in support of the mutinous soldiers and burned and looted the headquarters of President Roch Kabore's political party, the Reuters news agency reported. In another rally in downtown Ouagadougou, a group of protesters urged the soldiers to go further, chanting "Free the country!" Police fired tear gas to disperse around 300 demonstrators who gathered near the Place de la Nation.

Jailed army general held at barracks

Among the inmates at the Sangoule Lamizana camp prison is General Gilbert Diendere. Diendere was a top ally of former President Blaise Compaore, who was overthrown in a 2014 uprising. The general led a failed coup attempt the following year against the transitional government. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2019. He is also currently on trial in connection with the killing of Compaore's predecessor, Thomas Sankara, during a coup in 1987.

Burkinabe authorities arrested a dozen soldiers earlier this month on suspicion of conspiring against the government. Governments in West and Central Africa are on high alert for coups after successful putsches in Mali and Guinea over the past 18 months. The military also took over in Chad last year after President Idriss Deby died on the battlefield.

mm/rs (AFP, Reuters)