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Burkina Faso General Is Really Sorry About That Whole Coup Thing

General Gilbert Diendere, a shadowy military official who served as a spy chief under ousted President Blaise Compaore, addressed the country on national television and said he was committed to giving authority back to the transitional government.
September 21, 2015, 9:59pm
Photo by Joe Penney/Reuters

As a convoy of Burkina Faso's armed forces made its way to the capital on Monday in an attempt to disarm the military junta that took over last week, the coup's leader backed down and agreed to restore civilian rule as part of a deal brokered in talks with regional leaders over the weekend.

The junta's head General Gilbert Diendere, a shadowy military official who served as a spy chief under ousted President Blaise Compaore, addressed the country on national television Monday evening saying he was committed to giving authority back to the transitional government he and his forces removed from power on September 17.

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"I present my apologies to the nation and to the international community," he said in the address.

Diendere and members of the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) — an elite 1,200-person presidential guard comprised of Compaore loyalists — declared the coup last week after detaining most of the transitional government's leaders, including interim President Michel Kafando and Prime Minister Yacouba Isaac Zida. The turmoil kicked off just weeks before the country was due to vote on October 11, elections that have now been postponed until November.

As part of the agreement to reinstate civilian rule, Diendere also agreed to let go of Zida on Monday. Kafando's was released on Friday.

"I, General Diendere, accept the freeing of Zida by way of appeasement, in line with the draft agreement," he said during the speech, adding that he would also reunify the armed forces.

Before Diendere's announcement, the wait was on for the arrival of the country's military as it made its way to Ouagadougou. It appeared the convoy, which was greeted by citizens while en route, was very close to the city and prepared to take bold steps.

Ahead of Diendere's TV appearance, a spokesman for the armed forces told VICE News that troops "from all regiments and all regions" were converging on the capital with the aim of disarming the presidential guard. While the spokesman stressed that the army hoped to avoid bloodshed, he said its troops would "neutralize" the RSP if the guard refused to disarm. The army had urged the residents of the capital on Monday to go home and stay indoors.

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In a statement released earlier in the day, military chiefs had called on members of the RSP — which is led by General Diendere — to "hand in their weapons" and to travel to a camp where "they and their families will be protected," reported French radio RFI.

Related: A Coup Has Been Declared in Burkina Faso

A committee of regional mediators met over the weekend to discuss a plan to end the current political crisis. The proposal was presented Sunday evening by Senegal's President Macky Sall, who led negotiations in his capacity as president of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

The deal — which seeks to restore the authority of Kafando's transitional government and guarantees amnesty to the leaders of the coup — has been met with sharp criticism by the population of Burkina Faso, who have been demonstrating since last week against the coup.

Critics of the proposal are upset over the provision to grant amnesty to the junta leaders and are also opposed to the idea of letting candidates loyal to Compaore run in the upcoming elections. Burkina Faso's constitutional council had previously excluded more than 40 people linked to the former president from the polls.

The deal will be submitted Tuesday to ECOWAS for approval.

On Monday, local news site Lefaso.net reported the reactions of angry protesters who had gathered at Tiefo Amoro square, in the southwestern town of Bobo-Dioulasso, following the announcement of the plan. "Have they taken the people's concerns into account? Do they want to ignore the suffering of the people at the hands of the RSP?" a protester asked reporters. AFP reported similar reactions in the capital Ougadougou.

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Guy-Hervé Kam, a spokesman for the country's anti-corruption movement Balai Citoyen, described the proposal as "shameful" in an interview with the French daily Le Monde.

According to AFP, there was almost no access to the internet in Ougadougou on Monday, and a number of mobile phone networks were down. Meanwhile, a hospital source said at least 10 people have died and a further 113 people have been injured in clashes that erupted as a result of the coup, the AFP reported.

The French embassy closed French schools in the capital on Monday and urged French nationals to stay indoors because of "increasing number of protests, which could take a dramatic turn."

The transitional government was put in place after Compaore was toppled by civilian protests in October 2014, after 27 years in power. Compaore had attempted to amend the constitution to allow him to run in the next election.

Follow Lucie Aubourg on Twitter: @LucieAbrg

Additional reporting by Pierre Mareczko: @MareczkoP