Oct 31, 2014 12:05 PM

Burkina Faso army general takes power

The Associated Press

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) An army general took power in Burkina Faso Friday after President Blaise Compaore stepped down, ending his 27 year rule of the West African country.

Army Gen. Honore Traore, the joint chief of staff, has assumed power, state radio announced.

Compaore was forced out of office by a burst of violent protests in which parliament was set ablaze. The protesters refused to accept anything short of Compaore's immediate resignation.

Opposition protesters gathered in a square in the capital burst into cheers when they heard the announcement of Compaore's resignation on hand-held radios. They had been massing for a second day to push for Compaore to leave after their unrest had already persuaded the longtime leader not to run again for election.

"I declare that I'm leaving power in order to have a free and transparent election in 90 days," said Compaore in a statement read out on television and radio stations. "For my part, I think I have fulfilled my duty."

Compaore, 63, said he decided to leave power "in light of the severely deteriorated sociopolitical situation and the threat of division in our national army and out of a desire to preserve the peace."

With the parliament and the government dissolved a day earlier, the military, which has had a visible role in this crisis, stepped into the vacuum.

Meanwhile, Compaore was headed south to the city of Po, near the border with Ghana, a French diplomatic official said on condition of anonymity, citing the sensitivity of the situation. He is still in Burkina Faso, and it was not clear if he was trying to cross, the official said. He had not asked the French, who were once the country's colonial rulers, for any help.

For months, an opposition coalition has been urging Compaore not to seek re-election for what would have been his fifth term in power. But Compaore and his ruling party looked set to push a bill through parliament on Thursday that would have allowed him to run again.

Determined to block the vote, protesters stormed the building, the vote was suspended and the military announced the legislature had been dissolved and a transition government would be formed. After that, Compaore said he would lead until the new elections.

But protesters rejected that plan and gathered again Friday, demanding that Compaore step down immediately.

It was a dramatic turn of events for one of Africa's longest serving leaders who has survived other attempts to topple him.

Compaore first came to power following the October 1987 coup against then-President Thomas Sankara, Compaore's longtime friend and political ally who was killed in the power grab.

And for many, his legacy begins and ends with the death of Sankara, a well-regarded statesman whose death was widely viewed as a setback for the entire continent.

But Compaore has reinvented himself many times over the years. As a young man, he was in the military. He became justice minister when troops stormed Ouagadougou in 1983 and installed Sankara as president. After he took power in his own coup, he developed a reputation as a meddler and a supporter of regional conflicts.

He openly supported Charles Taylor, the Liberian warlord turned president, though he denied active involvement in the Liberian conflict. Compaore also was accused of supporting rebel groups in Ivory Coast and Angola.

But more recently, he has refashioned himself as an elder statesman who brokered electoral disputes and hostage releases throughout West Africa.

Domestically he kept a tight leash on any opposition and never groomed a viable political heir and fought off threats to his power. In 2011, waves of protests washed over Burkina Faso, challenging Compaore's rule, and mutinous soldiers occupied the palace at one point, forcing the president to flee.

But what would have spelled the end for many presidents was a mere temporary problem for Compaore and he maneuvered to stay in power by removing his security chiefs and appointing himself defense minister before returning to Ouagadougou.


Associated Press writer Sylvie Corbet in Paris contributed to this report.


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