While soldiers mutinied in Burkina Faso, the government rejected coup talks

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  • Government denies reports of army takeover
  • Mutineers demand the resignation of high-ranking security officials
  • Inmates include soldiers involved in the 2015 coup attempt
  • Authorities ban planned protests in Ouagadougou

OUAGADOUGOU, Jan 23 (Reuters) – Gunfire rang out continuously from military camps in Burkina Faso on Sunday as mutinous soldiers called for more support for their fight against Islamist militants and protesters raided the headquarters of President Roch Kabore’s political party.

The government called for calm and denied speculation on social media that the army had seized power or arrested Kabore.

Late Sunday it imposed a curfew from 2000 GMT to 0530 GMT until further notice and issued another statement suspending schools on Monday and Tuesday for safety reasons.

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A government spokesman said separately that talks were underway with the mutinous soldiers.

A spokesman for the mutineers said they called for “adequate” resources and training for the army to fight militants linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State, and for the resignation of army and intelligence chiefs.

Frustration in the West African gold-producing country has increased in recent months over the deteriorating security situation. The death of 49 MPs in a militant attack in November sparked violent protests demanding Kabore’s resignation.

Demonstrators in the streets of the capital Ouagadougou on Sunday urged the soldiers to move on and chanted “Liberate the country!”.

The mutiny underscores the threat posed by growing Islamist insurgencies in West Africa’s Sahel, a semi-arid sub-Saharan strip of land.

The militants have seized control of tracts of land across Burkina Faso and its neighbors Mali and Niger. In some cases, they force residents to adhere to their strict interpretation of Islamic law.

Heavy gunfire was first heard around 5:00 am (0500 GMT) Sunday at the Sangoule Lamizana camp in Ouagadougou, which houses a prison whose inmates include soldiers involved in a failed 2015 coup attempt, Reuters reporters said.

Hundreds of people later supported the mutineers. At the Lamizana camp, where about 100 people sang and sang the national anthem, the soldiers responded by firing in the air. It was not clear whether this was intended to support or drive away the demonstrators.

In downtown Ouagadougou, near Place de la Nation, police fired tear gas to disperse about 300 protesters.

Soldiers also fired in the air at an air force base near Ouagadougou International Airport, according to Reuters reporters. The US embassy also reported gunfire at three other military bases in Ouagadougou and at bases in the northern cities of Kaya and Ouahigouya.

Elsewhere in Ouagadougou, protesters burned and looted the headquarters of Kabore’s Popular Movement for Progress (MPP), a Reuters reporter said.

Addressing reporters outside the Lamizana camp, the mutineers’ spokesman called for better welfare for the wounded soldiers and their families.

People hold a flag of Burkina Faso as hundreds gather in downtown Ouagadougou to show their support for Burkina Faso’s military in this still from video January 23, 2022. REUTERS TV via REUTERS

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COUP FEARS

The Burkina Faso government has confirmed shooting at some military camps but denied reports on social media that the army had seized power.

Defense Minister General Bathelemy Simpore said on national television that the reasons for the shooting were still unclear.

“The head of state was not arrested, no institution in the country was threatened,” Simpore said.

Kabore has not been seen in public. His Twitter account posted a tweet to encourage the Burkina Faso national football team in their Africa Cup of Nations match against Gabon, and later congratulated them on their victory. Events at home were not mentioned.

NetBlocks, an observatory of internet blockages, said internet access was cut off from around 10am. A spokesman for the airport said flights had not been cancelled.

Governments in West and Central Africa are on high alert after successful coups over the past 18 months in Mali and Guinea, where the army ousted President Alpha Conde last September.

The military also took over in Chad last year after President Idriss Deby died on the battlefield.

The 15-member Economic Community of West African States said in a statement it was following the situation with grave concern and called on the Burkinabe military to promote dialogue with the authorities.

Burkinabe authorities earlier this month arrested a dozen soldiers on suspicion of anti-government conspiracy.

The arrests followed a shakeup in the army leadership in December, which some analysts saw as an attempt by Kabore to bolster his support within the military.

Increasing violence in Burkina Faso, triggered by Islamist attacks, killed more than 2,000 people last year.

Anti-government demonstrations were planned for Saturday, but the government banned them and police intervened to disperse hundreds of people trying to gather in Ouagadougou.

The government has suspended mobile internet service on several occasions, and the tense situation in November prompted the UN special envoy for West Africa to warn of a military takeover.

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Reporting by Thiam Ndiaga and Anne Mimault; Additional reporting by Ange Aboa; writing by Aaron Ross and Bate Felix; Editors Raissa Kasolowsky, Pravin Char, Emelia Sithole-Matarise and Daniel Wallis

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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