Protesters attack French embassy in Burkina Faso over allegedly harbouring ousted president.
Angry protesters have attacked the French embassy in Burkina Faso’s capital after supporters of the west African nation’s new coup leader accused France of harbouring the ousted interim president, a charge French authorities vehemently denied.
Lt Col Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba was overthrown late on Friday less than nine months after he mounted a coup in Burkina Faso, which has been failing to effectively counter rising violence by Islamic extremists.
Comments by a junta spokesperson on Saturday set into motion an outburst of anger in Ouagadougou, the capital.
“Damiba has tried to retreat to the Kamboinsin French military base to prepare a counter-offensive in order to sow divide amongst our defense and security forces,” said Lt Jean Baptiste Kabre, reading a statement on behalf of the new junta leadership.
Video on social media showed residents with lit torches outside the perimeter of the French embassy, and other images showed part of the compound ablaze.
In Burkina Faso’s second-largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, angry crowds also vandalised the French Institute.
Damiba’s whereabouts remained unknown but France’s foreign ministry issued a strongly worded statement. “We formally deny involvement in the events unfolding in Burkina Faso. The camp where the French forces are based has never hosted Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, nor has our embassy,” it said.
French foreign ministry spokesperson Anne-Claire Legendre later told France-24 on Saturday night that it was a “confusing situation” in Ouagadougou and she urged French citizens to stay at home.
Ibrahim Traore, the 34-year-old army captain who was named in charge after the Friday evening coup was announced on state television, said in interviews that he and his men did not seek to harm Damiba, who unlike other deposed leaders in the region has yet to offer his resignation.
“If we wanted, we would take him within five minutes of fighting and maybe he would be dead, the president. But we don’t want this catastrophe,” Traore told the Voice of America. “We don’t want to harm him, because we don’t have any personal problem with him. We’re fighting for Burkina Faso.”
He later told Radio Omega: “We have no intention to bring Damiba to justice. We only wish that he would go rest because he is tired, and as for us we are going to continue to do the work.”
Roads remained blocked off in Ouagadougou and a helicopter could be heard flying overhead. An internal security analysis for the EU seen by the Associated Press said there was “abnormal military movement” in the city.
As uncertainty prevailed, the international community widely condemned the ousting of Damiba, who overthrew the country’s democratically elected president in January. The African Union and the west African region bloc known as Ecowas sharply criticised the developments.
“ECOWAS finds this new power grab inappropriate at a time when progress has been made,” the bloc said, citing Damiba’s recent agreement to return to constitutional order by July 2024.
After taking power in January, Damiba promised to end the Islamic extremist violence that has forced 2 million people to flee their homes in Burkina Faso. But the group of officers led by Traore said on Friday that Damiba had failed and was being removed.
The new junta leadership said it would commit “all fighting forces to refocus on the security issue and the restoration of the integrity of our territory”.
But it remains to be seen whether the junta can turn around the crisis. Concerns were mounting on Saturday that the latest political volatility would further distract the military and allow the jihadis to strengthen their grip on the once-peaceful country.
For some in Burkina Faso’s military, Damiba was seen as too cozy with former coloniser France, which maintains a military presence in Africa’s Sahel region to help countries fight Islamic extremists. Some who support the new coup leader, Traore, have called on Burkina Faso’s government to seek Russian support instead.
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