Outside the capital, as residents were confined to their homes under a dusk-to-dawn curfew on Monday night, the army was preparing to seize back power. Hopes for a peaceful end to the coup in Burkina Faso seemed lost.
The West African nation’s transitional President Michel Kafando was forced from office last Thursday, reportedly betrayed by his own guards in a plot organised by allies of the former President, Blaise Compaore, who was ousted amid protests last year. Junta members said they were angered that members of Mr Compaore’s former ruling party could not take part in elections planned for next month.
Those same presidential guards, a unit known as the RSP that is loyal to the coup leader General Gilbert Diendere, were the object of the army’s attention on Monday night. The army said coup supporters should hand back their weapons at barracks in exchange for not being fired on. “They and their families will be protected,” the army said.
The presidential guards are claimed to have started the violence that has overwhelmed Burkina Faso in the past five days. At least 10 people have been confirmed dead, though many more remain unaccounted for.
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At Yalgado Hospital in central Ouagadougou, the family members of Tiendrebeogo Soumaila, 37, looked grim. Mr Soumaila was killed in a car crash on Sunday night.
“He was rushing home to meet the 7pm curfew last night because the presidential guard was out catching those who did not comply. They were behind him and he got in a wreck,” his brother, Moussa, 27, said. “Right now we cannot protest because the presidential guard will kill us. They are killing us.”
As international mediators worked toward a solution over the weekend, the presidential guard again clashed with members of the Balai Citoyen (Citizen’s Broom) protest movement outside a hotel in Ouagadougou where Senegal’s President Macky Sall led negotiations.
“All of the nation’s armed forces are converging on Ouagadougou with the sole goal of disarming the presidential guard without bloodshed,” the army said. “We ask them to surrender their weapons.”
But residents and regional analysts agree that the presidential guard will not stand down without a fight. “This time the army seems to side with the people,” Cynthia Ohayon, of the International Crisis Group, said.
“A confrontation between army and [presidential guards] will not go smoothly, I don’t think it can end without a bloodbath.”
While the national army outnumbers the presidential guard – with about 10,000 troops to the guard’s approximately 1,200 – the presidential guard outmatches the army in terms of weapons. “The RSP seems to know no bounds,” Ms Ohayon said. “They have gone very far already and will not stop easily.”
In Ouagadougou, a city accustomed to turbulent uprisings, the mood last night was one of panic. Hours earlier, there had been relative calm, as opposition parties and civil society leaders instructed protesters to wait until today’s potential signing of a peace deal in Nigeria. But by 2pm, shops throughout the capital quickly closed as news spread of a potential clash between the army and the presidential guard.
From exile, Mr Compaore – whose toppling in 2014 led to Burkina Faso being viewed as a model of popular democracy in Africa – issued a statement calling on the population to come together and to remain calm.
“Our economy cannot support another two weeks of protests, Look at the shops closed, the streets are dead. We hope the young people have a chance to wait and express themselves in elections, not on the streets.”
Nacandabo Mamadou, a member of the MPP opposition party who participated in the negotiations over the weekend, said: “It’s not possible for us to accept these terms. It’s simple. We cannot accept amnesty for the putschists and the presidential guard. If you commit murder, you must be judged.”
As the army converged on the city last night, Ouagadougou residents feared clashes between the presidential guard and the army would be bloody. But the worst-case scenario may have been averted. Car horns honked in Ouagadougou celebrating the military’s arrival. Some young residents said they were celebrating the end of the coup and the surrender of the presidential guard.
General Diendere gave a televised address on Monday night reiterating his promise to hand power back over to transitional authorities pending Tuesday’s signing in Nigeria and claiming he would release the former army officer and transitional Prime Minister Isaac Zida, who had been held since the start of the coup, as a “sign of appeasement”.
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