Burkina Faso’s powerful presidential guard announced Thursday morning that it had dissolved the country’s interim government, in what the head of the country’s National Assembly called a “coup d’état”.
Soldiers from the presidential guard interrupted a cabinet meeting on Wednesday evening and detained the country’s interim President Michel Kafando, the prime minister and two cabinet members.
“Members of the presidential guard burst into the room of the cabinet of ministers at around 14:30 and took hostage the president of Burkina Faso, the head of state, Michel Kafando, the Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida, and the minister of public administration… and the minister of housing,” Moumina Cheriff Sy, the head of the transitional parliament, said in a statement on Wednesday night. Sy slammed the action as a “coup d’état” on Thursday morning.
The presidential guard’s move comes two days after a reform commission proposed dismantling the military unit.
The presidential guard, known as the RSP, was a key pillar of ex-president Blaise Compaoré’s regime before he was toppled by demonstrations in October after 27 years in power.
Gunshots outside palace
According to information obtained by FRANCE 24, gunshots were heard inside the presidential palace, while Kafando and the prime minister were taken to an unknown location by the soldiers. The presidential guard had reportedly surrounded the palace to prevent anyone from entering or leaving.
Military sources had earlier said the whole cabinet had been detained but witnesses at the presidential palace suggested that some ministers were subsequently released by the soldiers.
After news of the presidential guard’s actions broke, protesters began gathering outside the presidential palace, with soldiers outside firing warning shots to disperse the crowd, witnesses said.
Civil society activist Souleymane Ouedraogo said on his Facebook page that the soldiers were demanding the resignation of President Kafando.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for their immediate release of Kafando and the prime minister on Wednesday.
‘Army within an army’
Burkina Faso is due to go to the polls on Oct. 11 to elect a new president from a field dominated by former members of Compaoré’s regime.
In a report submitted to Prime Minister Zida, himself a former commander of the presidential guard, the national reconciliation and reform commission described the 1,200-strong military unit as “an army within an army”.
Coup members later declared General Gilbert Diendéré the new leader until ‘inclusive and peaceful’ elections can be held.
In a statement, the military unit also announced the closure of the West African nation’s borders as well as the implementation of an overnight curfew.
Coup spokesperson Lieutenant-Colonel Mamadou Bamba spoke on national television to announce that “wide-ranging talks” were being held to form a new government leading to “inclusive and peaceful elections”.