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As soldiers mutiny in Burkina Faso, government dismisses talk of coup

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World18 minutes ago (Jan 23, 2022 08:20AM ET)

As soldiers mutiny in Burkina Faso, government dismisses talk of coup

By Thiam Ndiaga

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) -Sustained gunfire rang out from several military camps in Burkina Faso on Sunday as mutinying soldiers demanded more government support for their fight against Islamist militants and the resignation of the army and intelligence chiefs.

The government called for calm, denying speculation on social media that the army had seized power or detained President Roch Kabore.

Heavy gunfire was first heard at the capital Ouagadougou’s Sangoule Lamizana camp, which houses a prison whose inmates include soldiers involved in a failed 2015 coup attempt, as early as 5:00 a.m. (0500 GMT), a Reuters reporter said.

The reporter later saw soldiers firing into the air in the camp, and the air base close to Ouagadougou International Airport. A witness also reported gunfire at a military camp in Kaya, around 100 km (62 miles) north of Ouagadougou.

Speaking to reporters in front of the camp as soldiers fired into the air behind him, one of the mutineers issued a series of demands, including the resignations of the army chief of staff and the head of the intelligence service.

He also called for appropriate resources and training for the army, which has suffered severe losses at the hands of militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State in recent months.

Burkina Faso’s government confirmed gunfire at some military camps but denied reports on social media that the army had seized power.

Speaking on national television, Defence Minister General Bathelemy Simpore said the reasons for the gunfire was still unclear.

“The head of state has not been detained; no institution of the country has been threatened,” Simpore said. “For now, we don’t know their motives or what they are demanding. We are trying to get in contact with them,” he said.

Hundreds of people came out onto the streets in support of the mutineers. Near the Place de la Nation in downtown Ouagadougou, police fired teargas to disperse around 300 protesters.

About 100 demonstrators also rallied near the Sangoule Lamizana camp, where they sang the national anthem.

NetBlocks, an internet blockage observatory, said web access had been disrupted as of around 10 a.m. A spokesperson for the airport said flights had not been cancelled.

COUP FEARS

Governments in West and Central Africa are on high alert for coups after successful putsches over the past 18 months in Mali and Guinea. The military also took over in Chad last year after President Idriss Deby died on the battlefield.

Burkinabe authorities arrested https://www.reuters.com/article/burkina-security-idAFL8N2TR52K a dozen soldiers earlier this month on suspicion of conspiring against the government.

The arrests followed a shake-up within the army’s leadership in December, which some analysts saw as an effort by President Roch Kabore to shore up his support within the military.

Rising violence in the West African country by Islamist militants killed over 2,000 people last year, prompting violent street protests https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/burkina-faso-police-fire-tear-gas-protest-against-militant-violence-2021-11-27 in November calling for Kabore to step down.

Additional demonstrations were planned for Saturday, but the government banned them and the police intervened to disperse the hundreds of people who tried to assemble in Ouagadougou.

The government has suspended mobile internet service on several occasions, and the tense situation in November led the U.N. special envoy to West Africa to warn against any military takeover.

Among the inmates at the Sangoule Lamizana camp prison is General Gilbert Diendere, who was a top ally of Burkina Faso’s former president, Blaise Compaore. Compaore was overthrown in a 2014 uprising.

Diendere led a failed coup attempt the following year against the transitional government. He was sentenced in 2019 to 20 years in prison. He is also currently on trial in connection with the killing of Compaore’s predecessor, Thomas Sankara, during a coup in 1987.

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