As soldiers mutiny in Burkina Faso, government dismisses coup rumors

  • The government denies reports that the army took power
  • The camp houses the army headquarters and a prison
  • Detainees include soldiers involved in the 2015 coup attempt
  • Authorities ban planned protests in Ouagadougou

OUAGADOUGOU, Jan 23 (Reuters) – Heavy gunfire rang out from several military camps in Burkina Faso on Sunday as mutinous soldiers demanded more government support in their fight against Islamist militants and the resignation of army and military leaders. intelligence services.

The government has called for calm, denying speculation on social media that the army has seized power or detained President Roch Kaboré.

Heavy gunfire was first heard at Sangoule Lamizana camp in the capital Ouagadougou, which houses a prison whose inmates include soldiers involved in a failed coup attempt in 2015, as early as 0500 (0500 GMT ), said a Reuters reporter.

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The journalist then saw soldiers firing into the air in the camp and airbase near Ouagadougou International Airport. A witness also reported gunfire at a military camp in Kaya, about 100 km (62 miles) north of Ouagadougou.

Addressing reporters outside the camp as soldiers fired into the air behind him, one of the mutineers issued a series of demands, including the resignation of the army chief of staff and chief of the intelligence service.

He also called for proper resources and training for the army, which has suffered heavy casualties at the hands of militants linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State in recent months.

Burkina Faso’s government has confirmed gunshots at some military camps, but denied reports on social media that the military had taken over.

Speaking on national television, Defense Minister General Bathelemy Simpore said the reasons for the shots were still unclear.

“The head of state has not been arrested, no institution in the country has been threatened,” Simpore said. “At the moment we don’t know their motivations or what they are asking for. We are trying to get in touch with them,” he said.

Hundreds of people took to the streets to support the mutineers. Near Place de la Nation in downtown Ouagadougou, police fired tear gas to disperse around 300 protesters.

A hundred demonstrators also gathered near the Sangoule Lamizana camp, where they sang the national anthem.

NetBlocks, an observatory of internet blockages, said web access was cut around 10 a.m. An airport spokesperson said the flights have not been canceled.

COUP FEAR

Governments in West and Central Africa are on high alert for coups after successful putsches over the past 18 months in Mali and Guinea. The army also took over in Chad last year after President Idriss Deby was killed on the battlefield.

Burkinabe authorities arrested a dozen soldiers earlier this month on suspicion of plotting against the government.

The arrests followed a shake-up in the army leadership in December, which some analysts saw as an effort by President Roch Kaboré to build support within the army.

Rising violence in the West African country by Islamist militants killed more than 2,000 people last year, sparking violent street protests in November calling for Kabore to step down.

Additional protests were planned for Saturday, but the government banned them and police moved in to disperse hundreds of people trying to gather in Ouagadougou.

The government has suspended mobile internet service several times, and the tense situation in November led the UN’s special envoy to West Africa to warn against any military takeover.

Among the detainees at the Sangoule Lamizana camp prison is General Gilbert Diendere, who was a key ally of Burkina Faso’s former president, Blaise Compaore. Compaoré was overthrown in an uprising in 2014.

Diendere led a failed coup attempt the following year against the transitional government. He was sentenced in 2019 to 20 years in prison. He is also currently on trial for the murder of Compaoré’s predecessor, Thomas Sankara, during a 1987 coup.

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Reporting by Thiam Ndiaga and Anne Mimault, additional reporting by Ange Aboa Writing by Aaron Ross and Bate Felix Editing Raissa Kasolowsky, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Pravin Char

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