Burkina Faso junta faces protests over exiled former leader

OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso (AP) — Protesters in Burkina Faso protested Friday against the return of former President Blaise Compaore, as the ruling junta wavered in its efforts to hold a summit on the crisis of jihadist violence.

Compaore, the longtime military strongman ousted by a popular uprising in 2014, returned to Burkina Faso on Thursday to attend the unprecedented meeting with other former leaders.

The leader of the junta, Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, called the meeting in which five former presidents would participate. But on Friday only two former leaders showed up for the meeting: Compaore and Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo, who ruled the country for nine months between 1982 and 1983, when it was known as Upper Volta.

The meeting masterminded by Damiba, who had appointed himself interim president, was an attempt to discuss the future of Burkina Faso amid escalating jihadist violence linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State group that has killed thousands and displaced nearly 2 million people.

Former President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, who was ousted by Damiba in January, was unable to attend due to protesters surrounding his home, according to internal security reports for aid workers seen by The Associated Press.

Riot police gathered outside Kabore’s house on Friday to control the protesters.

“If Roch Marc Christian Kabore still has any dignity, he should normally refuse to go to this meeting. So I am in front of his gates and I told him that he must not move,” said Ahmed Ki, a Kabore supporter.

Others in the capital protested the return of Compaore, who ruled the country with an iron fist for nearly 30 years. Although he was in exile in neighboring Côte d’Ivoire, a Burkina Faso court recently convicted him of complicity in the 1987 assassination of former President Thomas Sankara and sentenced him to life in prison.

Lawyers for the Sankara family have called for his arrest.

“Mr. Blaise Compaore was sentenced to life in prison by the Ouagadougou military court trial and is still subject to an arrest warrant issued against him by the military court,” said Benewende Stanislas Sankara, a spokesman for the Sankara family.

Local rights organizations warn that by giving Compaore impunity, the junta has taken an “extremely serious step” that undermines the rule of law in Burkina Faso, Chrysogone Zougmore, president of the Burkinabe Movement for Human Rights, told The Associated Press.

Speaking on state television, Damiba defended his decision to allow Compaore to visit the country.

“To the Burkinabe who have expressed their opinions against our approach, we say that the process is not made to consecrate impunity, but to contribute to the search for solutions for a Burkina Faso of peace and cohesion,” he said.

The board will continue discussions with those who were unable to attend the meeting, he said.

The public will not easily accept the board’s “forgive and forget” message, said Laith Alkhouri, CEO of Intelonyx Intelligence Advisory.

“This urgent meeting has so far been unsuccessful and, if anything, is eroding the already fragile public confidence in the governing board,” he said.


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