Burkina Faso junta chief ousted

OUAGADOUGOU (AFP) — Military officers seized control of Burkina Faso on Friday, claiming to be restoring peace to the jihadist-wracked country as they dismissed a junta leader who had himself come to power in a coup at the start of this year.

In the capital Ouagadougou, witnesses heard pre -dawn gunfire around the presidential palace and junta headquarters.

Then just before 8 p.m. (2000 GMT), more than a dozen soldiers in fatigues appeared on the state television and radio broadcaster to announce the removal of Lieutenant -Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba for failing to stem a jihadist insurgency.

In his place, they proclaimed 34-year-old Captain Ibrahim Traore in charge. “We have decided to take our responsibilities, driven by a single ideal: The restoration of security and integrity of our territory,” they said.

“Our common ideal was betrayed by our leader in whom we had placed all our trust. Far from liberating the occupied territories, the once peaceful areas have come under terrorist control.”

The rebelling military also announced the closure of air and land borders from midnight, as well as the suspension of the constitution and the dissolution of the government and transitional legislative assembly.

A curfew from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. was also put in place. New strongman Traore was previously head of anti-jihadist special forces unit “Cobra” in the northern region of Kaya. Ousted leader Damiba’s fate remained unknown.

The coup plotters promised to convene “the nation’s active forces” to designate a “new president of Faso, whether civilian or military.”

The United States said it was “deeply concerned” by the situation in Ouagadougou and encouraged its citizens to limit movements.

When he declared himself in charge on 24 January, ousting elected leader Roch Marc Christian Kabore, Damiba had promised to make security his priority and end the bloody jihadist attacks.

But these have increased in recent months, especially in the north and east where whole towns have been blockaded by insurgents who have blown up bridged and attacked supply convoys.

As in bordering countries, insurgents affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group have stoked unrest. Thousands have died and about two million have been displaced by the fighting since 2015 when the insurgency spread into Burkina Faso, which has since become the epicenter of the violence across the Sahel.

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