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Army Colonel Assumes Power in Burkina Faso After President Resigns

After violent protests ousted President Blaise Compaoré, Burkina Faso's military issued a declaration in support of Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida's claim to authority.

by Liz Fields
Nov 1 2014, 8:43pm

Photo by Theo Renaut/AP

Burkina Faso's army picked a new transitional leader Saturday after days of bloody protests culminated in President Blaise Compaoré's resignation.

Compaoré, who had been in office for 27 years, relinquished leadership of the landlocked nation Friday after demonstrators ransacked the parliament building in the capital of Ouagadougou and set it alight. Three people died in the fire.

Hours after Compaoré's ouster, the army released a declaration in support of Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida's claim to authority, trumping an earlier declaration made by military chief General Honore Traore that he would fill the power vacuum in the West African nation.

"Lieutenant Colonel Yacouba Isaac Zida has been elected unanimously to lead the transition period opened after the departure of President Blaise Compaore," the army's declaration read.

The document, drafted and signed by senior military officials, said the decision was made following a meeting involving both men, and that the "form and duration" of the transition has yet to be determined.

President of Burkina Faso officially resigns amid turmoil. Read more here.

The mass street protests in Ouagadougou began on the eve of a proposed October 30 parliamentary vote that sought to change the constitution to allow Compaoré to seek reelection in 2015 and extend his rule over the former French colony.

Over the weekend, the country's new interim leader praised the protesters for standing up to — and ultimately overturning — the government of one of the world's poorest nations.

"This is not a coup d'etat but a popular uprising," Zida said on a nationally broadcast radio announcement Saturday. "I salute the memory of the martyrs of this uprising and bow to the sacrifices made by our people."

Zida also confirmed the country's borders had been temporarily shut, the constitution suspended, and a transitional committee set up until elections were called.

Police unleash tear gas and batons on protesters in Burkina Faso. Read more here.

Zida, who has been a member of the military for more than 20 years, was close to the former president and served as the second in command of his security regiment. His ascendance marks the seventh time a military officer has seized power since Burkina Faso won its independence from France more than 50 years ago.

The situation in Burkina Faso is being watched closely by the international community.

The US said in a statement Friday that it was "concerned about the unfolding events in Burkina Faso," and called on the military to follow "the constitutionally mandated process for the transfer of power and holding of democratic elections."

"We condemn any attempts by the military or other parties to take advantage of the situation for unconstitutional gain and call on all parties to respect the people's support for the democratic process," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said in the statement.

President of Burkina Faso announces dissolution of government. Read more here.

This video shows Colonel Isaac Zida at a press conference. He Can Be Heard telling reporters That "the power is now in the hands of the people." At 1.34 Zida says "the army has Responded to the call of the people."

Compaoré, a former soldier who seized control in a coup in 1987, was well regarded by foreign powers, for his cooperation in battling al Qaeda-linked insurgent organizations in West Africa.

But under Compaoré rule, the country of 17 million has long languished on the bottom rungs of the UN's human development index, and its population remains plagued by poverty and poor health.

After the former president's resignation and reported relocation to the neighboring Ivory Coast on Friday, many residents celebrated in the central Place de la Nation in Ouagadougou, according to Reuters.

One protester, Lucien Trinnou, likened the events of the past few days to the Arab Spring — a revolutionary wave of protests starting in late 2010 that deposed leaders of several countries in the Middle East.

"This is a 'sub-Saharan Spring'," Trinnou said. "It must continue against all the presidents who are trying to hang on to power in Africa."

Follow Liz Fields on Twitter: @lianzifields