Military officers on Friday seized control of Burkina Faso, claiming to be restoring peace to the militant-wracked country as they overthrew a junta leader who had also come to power in a coup at the start of this year.
In the capital, Ouagadougou, gunfire around the presidential palace was heard before dawn of a day that culminated in the latest ousting.
Just before 8pm, more than a dozen soldiers in fatigues appeared on the state television and radio broadcaster to announce the removal of Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba for failing to stem a jihadist insurgency.
They proclaimed 34-year-old Captain Ibrahim Traore in charge.
“We have decided to take our responsibilities, driven by a single ideal: the restoration of security and integrity of our territory,” they said.
With much of the Sahel region battling a growing militant insurgency, the violence has prompted a series of coups in Mali, Guinea and Chad since 2020.
In January, Damiba installed himself as leader of the country of 16 million after accusing then-Burkinabe president Roch Marc Christian Kabore of failing to beat back the jihadists.
However, with more than 40 percent of the former French colony outside government control, the latest putsch leaders said Damiba, too, had failed.
“Far from liberating the occupied territories, the once-peaceful areas have come under terrorist control,” the new military leaders said.
The military then suspended the Burkinabe constitution, sealed the borders, dissolved the transitional government and legislative assembly, and instituted a curfew from 9pm to 5am.
Traore was previously head of anti-jihadist special forces unit “Cobra” in the northern region of Kaya.
Damiba’s fate on Friday remained unknown.
Damiba’s Patriotic Movement for Preservation and Restoration party earlier on Friday said there was an “internal crisis in the army” prompting troop deployments in key areas of the capital.
Agence France-Presse (AFP) journalists saw troops block several main roads and intersections in Ouagadougou, with soldiers also stationed outside the state television center.
Government spokesman Lionel Bilgo had said the “crisis” concerned an army pay dispute, and that Damiba was taking part in negotiations.
In the morning, shots rang out in the Ouaga 2000 neighborhood, which houses both the presidential and junta headquarters.
“I heard heavy detonations around 4:30am and now the roads around my home have been sealed off by military vehicles,” a resident close to the presidential palace said.
State television was cut for several hours prior to the military announcement, broadcasting just a blank screen with the message “no video signal.”
In the afternoon, an AFP journalist saw a group of several hundred people gather in a city square demanding the departure of Damiba and the end of the French military presence.
By evening, soldiers were still in place at key points of the city, and streets were mostly deserted.
In a statement, the Economic Community of West African States “condemned in the strongest possible terms” the latest seizure of power, calling it “inappropriate” at a time when progress was being made for a return to constitutional order by July 1, 2024.
The US said it was “deeply concerned” by the situation in Ouagadougou.
“We call for a return to calm and restraint by all actors,” a US Department of State spokesperson said.
Although Damiba had promised to make security his priority when he took charge on Jan. 24, violent attacks have increased since March.
In the north and east, towns have been blockaded by insurgents who have blown up bridges and attacked supply convoys.
As in bordering countries, insurgents affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have stoked unrest.
Thousands have died and about two million have been displaced by the fighting since 2015 when the insurgency spread to Burkina Faso, which has since become the epicenter of the violence across the Sahel.
On Sept. 5, an improvised explosive device struck a supply convoy in the north, killing 35 civilians and injuring 37.
The following day, at least nine people — seven civilians and two soldiers — were killed in two separate attacks by militants.
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