The African Union chief Moussa Faki Mahamat has condemned the “unconstitutional change of government” in Burkina Faso after the second coup in less than a year in which a group of junior army officers removed military ruler Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba.
“The chairperson calls upon the military to immediately and totally refrain from any acts of violence or threats to the civilian population, civil liberties, human rights,” the AU said in a statement on Saturday, calling for the restoration of the constitutional order by July next year “at the latest”.
Earlier the regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) reaffirmed its “unequivocal opposition” to the coup.
The ECOWAS said the coup came at an “inopportune” time when progress was being made towards a return to constitutional order.
“ECOWAS reaffirms its unequivocal opposition to any seizure or maintenance of power by unconstitutional means,” the regional bloc said in a statement shared on social media.
The United Nations has voiced concern about the situation in the country while the European Union denounced the coup.
“Burkina Faso needs peace, it needs stability, and it needs unity in order to fight terrorist groups and criminal networks operating in parts of the country,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
The new military leader, Captain Ibrahim Traore, promised to overhaul the military so it is better prepared to fight “extremists”. He accused Damiba of following the same failed strategies as former President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, whom Damiba overthrew in a January coup.
“Far from liberating the occupied territories, the once-peaceful areas have come under terrorist control,” the new military leadership said, adding Damiba failed as more than 40 per cent of the country remained outside government control. Damiba’s fate remains unknown.
The new rulers announced the dissolution of the transitional government, suspension of the constitution, and the closure of borders indefinitely. All political and civil society activities were suspended and a curfew from 9pm to 5am was introduced.
Faki, the AU chief, said he was deeply concerned about the resurgence of unconstitutional coups in the West African nation and elsewhere on the continent.
Uneasy calm in Ouagadougou
An uneasy calm permeated the capital, Ouagadougou, where soldiers in armoured vehicles and pick-up trucks guarded the national television centre but traffic slowly resumed on arterial roads.
Shops slowly started reopening in the dusty and spread-out city, where pre-dawn gunfire on Friday around the presidential palace culminated in the latest coup, that has drawn wide condemnation.
Reuters reported that shots rang out in the capital on Saturday while a large convoy of heavily armed security forces was also seen driving through the centre of Ouagadougou.
Al Jazeera however, could not independently verify the reports.
In January, the AU suspended Burkina Faso from participation in its activities “until the effective restoration of constitutional order in the country”.
The new military leadership announced that it will effectively restart the clock on the road back to democracy, erasing much of the recent diplomacy between Burkina Faso and the ECOWAS.
“The Damiba administration had only just reached common ground with ECOWAS, agreeing to a transition timeline in July,” Eric Humphery-Smith, senior Africa analyst at risk intelligence company Verisk Maplecroft, told Associated Press.
Burkina Faso’s former colonial ruler France told its citizens in Ouagadougou, believed to number between 4,000 and 5,000, to stay home, while the European Union expressed “concern” at the unfolding events.
The United States called “for a return to calm and restraint by all actors”.
The landlocked state of Burkina Faso has been struggling to contain rebel groups, including some associated with al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS).
Since 2015, the country has become the epicentre of the violence across the Sahel, with thousands of people dead and about two million displaced.
In September, a particularly bloody month, Damiba sacked his defence minister and assumed the role himself.