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Nov 4, 2014 2:15 PM

African Union envoy meets Burkina Faso opposition

The Associated Press

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) International envoys tried on Tuesday to resolve Burkina Faso's political crisis, with the specter of a power vacuum looming after the country's longtime president fled last week.

Opposition protesters who said 27 years in power was enough for one man forced President Blaise Compaore to resign and flee to Ivory Coast. Confusion ensued, with different factions of the military and the civilian opposition all vying for control.

Order has been restored in Ouagadougou, the capital, with business appearing to return to normal and no unusual presence of police or military on the streets.

For now, the military appears to be in charge and has designated Lt. Col. Isaac Yacouba Zida as the transitional leader. The opposition has dropped its demands that the military immediately surrender power and is instead calling for talks to work out a solution.

But the African Union and others in the international community have held a firmer line. The African Union, which represents 53 countries on the continent, gave the West African country two weeks to return to constitutional rule or face sanctions.

Its envoy, former Togolese Prime Minister Edem Kodjo, met Tuesday with leaders of the opposition.

Following the meeting, opposition leader Zephirin Diabre indicated that there may be wiggle room in the AU's ultimatum.

"It's clear that this is a situation where political dialogue should be allowed to take into account the exceptional nature of this particular situation," he said. "We'll work to respect the deadline. If we can't, they'll understand."

The U.N. secretary-general's representative for West Africa, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, has echoed the AU's goal, saying he and other envoys are working to "quickly find a solution that is consistent" with the national constitution. The presidents of Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana are expected to arrive Wednesday to participate in talks.

Lt. Col. Zida, meanwhile, met with religious leaders and traditional chiefs. Afterward, the country's Catholic cardinal, Philip Ouedraogo, said the military seemed open to dialogue.

"The problem with Burkina is we are still far from certain as to exactly what is going to happen: The military has made promises that they don't want to hang on to power but, if not, why hang on to it in the first place?" asked Jeggan Grey-Johnson, an analyst with the Open Society Foundation's Africa Regional Office in Johannesburg.

"The military is split ... and the opposition is as split as ever. Meanwhile, the president of the National Assembly has basically run away and abdicated his responsibilities, so there's really a huge vacuum going forward," said Grey-Johnson.

That's worrying for a country that has served as an important ally to the West.

Under Compaore's semi-authoritarian rule, Burkina Faso was a bastion of relative stability in a volatile region and a reliable ally of the West. The country hosts French special forces and is an important partner of both France and the United States in the fight against Islamic militants in the region.

In fact, Zida himself received counterterrorism training from the U.S. government. When he was a major, he attended a course in early 2012 at the Joint Special Operations University at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, as part of a program under which the U.S. Department of Defense provides training to foreign military officers.

He also attended a Defense Department-funded course in Botswana later that year.

A 2013 U.S. State Department report lauded Burkina Faso as "a strong U.S. security and defense partner" in counterterrorism in the region that "aggressively undertook measures to combat the regional danger posed by terrorist organizations." Burkina Faso borders Mali, whose al-Qaida-linked militants took control of the country's north for a time before a French-led intervention last year scattered them throughout the region.

The French were quick to praise Compaore's decision to leave, and the United States called again on Monday for a civilian-led transition and elections soon.

Even though calm has largely returned to Ouagadougou, members of the former ruling party and their allies asked for protection from Zida's government on Tuesday, saying many of them have nowhere to go after their homes were destroyed in opposition protests last week.


Associated Press writers David Rising in Berlin and Michelle Faul in Johannesburg contributed to this report.


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