Burkina Faso coup-makers led by a self-declared leader, Ibrahim Traoré accusse France of supporting a counterattack by ousted Lt Col Paul-Henri Damiba.
The man who was overthrown in a coup in Burkina Faso, according to the self-proclaimed leader, is preparing a counterattack.
In Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, bullets have been heard, and helicopters are circling overhead.
Col Ibrahim Traoré has also accused the French Army of harbouring Lt Col Paul-Henri Damiba at one of their bases – which French diplomats have denied.
Gunshots have been heard in Burkina Faso’s capital city Ouagadougou and helicopters are circling overhead, a day after the officers overthrew the man who seized power in a coup only nine months earlier.
Witnesses say troops have blocked main roads around the city and shops that had opened earlier are now shut.
“[Damiba] is believed to have taken refuge in the French base at Kamboinsin in order to plan a counteroffensive to stir up trouble in our defence and security forces,” the coup-makers said in a statement read on national television and signed by Captain Ibrahim Traore, the country’s new leader.
An hour before the televised comments, the French embassy issued a statement “firmly denying any involvement of the French army in the events”. It also denied “rumours that Burkinabe authorities have been hosted or are under the protection of French military”.
France is Burkina Faso’s former coloniser.
Meanwhile, angry protesters attacked the French embassy in Ouagadougou late Saturday. Video on social media showed residents with lit torches outside the perimeter and other images showed part of the compound ablaze.
In a statement published on the Burkinabe presidency’s official Facebook page on Saturday, Damiba – whose whereabouts remain unknown – urged his rivals “to come to their senses to avoid a fratricidal war that Burkina Faso doesn’t need”.
Friday’s apparent takeover had been announced on national TV and was the second time this year that the country’s army had seized power.
On both occasions, the coup leaders said they had to step in because national security was so dire.
Lt Col Damiba’s junta overthrew an elected government in January citing a failure to halt Islamist attacks, and he himself told citizens “we have more than what it takes to win this war.”
Burkina Faso controls as little as 60% of its territory, experts say, and Islamist violence is worsening.
Since 2020 more than a million people have been displaced in the country due to the violence.
Flanked by rebel soldiers in fatigues and black facemasks, army captain Col Traoré announced on national TV on Friday evening that they were kicking out Lt Damiba, dissolving the government, and suspending the constitution.
Ibrahim Traoré said Lt Col Damiba’s inability to deal with an Islamist insurgency was to blame.
“Our people have suffered enough, and are still suffering”, he said.
Little is known about Col Traoré, the 34-year-old soldier who led an anti-jihadist unit in the north called Cobra.
His statement effectively declared himself the interim leader of Burkina Faso. But in Friday’s announcement came the promise that the “driving forces of the nation” would in time be brought together to appoint a new civilian or military president and a new “transitional charter”.
However, the chief of staff of Burkina Faso’s army called on opposing factions to cease hostilities and continue talks, calling the situation “an internal crisis within the National Armed Forces”.
The African Union has urged the military to “immediately and totally refrain from any acts of violence or threats to the civilian population, civil liberties, human rights”.
The United States said it was “deeply concerned” by events in Burkina Faso and encouraged its citizens to limit movements in the country. France issued a similar warning to its more than 4,000 citizens living in the capital city Ouagadougou.
“We call for a return to calm and restraint by all actors,” a US State Department spokesperson said.