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African leaders head to Burkina for army talks

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African leaders were headed for Burkina Faso on Wednesday to pressure the army into keeping its promise to hand power back to civilians within a fortnight after the fall of president Blaise Compaore.

Isaac Zida, the interim leader appointed by Burkina Faso’s military, told unions on Tuesday that he would return the country to civilian rule, a day after the African Union threatened sanctions if the army did not give up power.

The presidents of Ghana, Nigerian and Senegal were due to arrive in Burkina Faso on Wednesday to press the issue, as Canada suspended its aid to the impoverished West African country and other nations considered similar moves.

The military had filled the power vacuum left by Compaore, who was forced to resign on Friday after 27 years in power, chased out by a violent popular uprising that some had likened to the Arab Spring.

France said it helped facilitate the evacuation of Compaore saying it was necessary to prevent a “bloodbath” in the former French colony.

In the aftermath of Compaore’s exit, the army’s decision to take over the reins of the country once again sparked angry protests at home and prompted threats of sanctions from the international community.

But the army has claimed that “power does not interest us” and pledged to install a unity government with a “broad consensus”.

Zida has repeated the promise in meetings with opposition and civil society leaders as well as foreign envoys.

“If everyone agrees, there is no reason that the transition (from military rule) shouldn’t be done within two weeks,” Zida said on Tuesday, according to union leader Joseph Tiendrebeogo.

Mogho Naba, the “king” of Burkina Faso’s leading Mossi tribe, told AFP he had met Zida on Tuesday.

“They came to tell us that they would hand back power to civilians,” he said. “The country should regain peace and quiet.”

The army has made similar pledges over the past couple of days, without taking concrete action so far.

Under the constitution, which has been suspended, the parliament speaker was supposed to take over as transitional leader.

But the whereabouts of current speaker Soungalo Ouattara, a close ally of Compaore, are unknown.

French President Francois Hollande said on Tuesday that Paris helped evacuate Compaore to avoid worsening the situation and provoking a possible “bloodbath”.

Compaore and his wife are now staying in a luxury government mansion in Yamoussoukro, the capital of neighbouring Ivory Coast.

Ivorian President AlassaneOuattara issued a statement late Tuesday saying Compaore “can stay as long as he wishes in Ivory Coast”.

Meanwhile, international donors whose funding, according to ratings agency S&P, is “instrumental” in financing the impoverished country’s domestic budget and external trade, were watching the situation in Burkina Faso with concern.

Canada, which provided some $35.6 million (28 million euros) in aid between 2012 and 2013 to the country, raised the pressure on Tuesday by suspending development assistance to the country.

It said funding would be restored when a “legitimate and accountable civil authority has been re-established”.

Washington said it was still “gathering facts” on the situation but could yet withdraw its $14 million annual aid package.

Opposition leaders were meanwhile meeting with mediators from the United Nations, ECOWAS and the African Union, which has named Togo’s former prime minister Edem Kodjo as a special envoy to the landlocked west African nation.

The opposition is not necessarily against the military playing a role in the transition.

“We have to see what model is best for the situation and the context,” said the opposition’s main leader Zephirin Diabre.

The ousted ruling party, the Congress for Democracy and Progress, has also expressed its willingness to “work with the transitional authorities”.

Normal life had returend to the capital Ouagadougou on Tuesday. Only five days earlier, hundreds of thousands of protesters had gone on a rampage against Compaore’s bid to extend his 27-year rule, setting parliament and other public buildings ablaze.

Zida has suggested holding a day of mourning for the victims of the crisis.

Hospital sources say at least 10 people died and 200 were wounded in the violence, while the opposition have given a figure of 30 deaths. SAPA

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