Amid Fiery Protests, Burkina Faso Halts Bill to Extend Presidency
Parliament set ablaze as Burkina Faso residents protest 'constitutional coup d’etat'
After anti-government protesters set fire to Burkina Faso's Parliament on Thursday in escalating demonstrations against the ruler they say is making a "constitutional coup d'etat" to stay in power, President Blaise Compaore has reportedly scrapped—or at least delayed—a plan to extend his 27-year reign.
Statements by former defense minister General Kouame Lougue have led to speculation that the military may be poised to remove Compaore from power. French news outlets also reported that the President’s brother, Francois, was arrested as he tried to flee the country.
At least five people were killed in the protest, which extended into its third day since breaking out earlier in the week. Police used tear gas and shot live rounds at the crowds as they broke through barricades and stormed Parliament in an attempt to block lawmakers from attending the session that would have approved the constitutional amendment.
The bill, due for a vote on Thursday, would have amended the country’s constitution to allow Compaore to run for re-election in 2015, rather than stepping down as scheduled.
The government’s communications minister Alain Edouard Traore confirmed to several news agencies that the plan had been dropped, at least temporarily. The announcement came shortly after protesters forced national TV and radio buildings off the air and toppled statues in the country’s second largest city, Bobo Dioulasso.
The European Union has also urged the government to ditch the legislation, warning that it could "jeopardize... stability, equitable development and democratic progress."
Compaore, whose whereabouts are currently unknown, appealed for calm on Twitter on Thursday.
Benewende Sankara, an opposition leader, told Agence France-Presse that calm will come when the President steps down.
"The army is united with the people," Sankara said. "The opposition is demanding the resignation of President Blaise Compaore to enable calm to be restored."
According to the Guardian, "this 'revolution 2.0' has been called a victory by the Burkinabè opposition." The BBC reports that dozens of soldiers have joined the protests, including Lougue.
The main opposition leader, Zephirin Diabre, has called on the military to side with "the people."
Compaore has won four disputed elections since coming to power in a 1987 coup, most recently in November 2010.
Opposition leaders have called for a coordinated action of civil disobedience until Compaore steps down. "October 30 is Burkina Faso's Black Spring, like the Arab Spring," activist Emile Pargui Pare, an official from the Movement of People for Progress (MPP), told AFP.
Activists and journalists used the hashtag #lwili to track the protests on social media, a reference to the traditional Burkinabè Lwili Peende cloth being worn by many protesters.