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Burkina Faso government dismisses coup fears as soldiers mutiny

Sustained gunfire rang out from several military camps in Burkina Faso on Sunday as mutinying soldiers demanded more government support for their fight against Islamist militants and the resignation of the army and intelligence chiefs.

The government called for calm, denying speculation on social media that the army had seized power or detained President Roch Kabore.

Heavy gunfire was first heard at the capital Ouagadougou’s Sangoule Lamizana camp, which houses a prison whose inmates include soldiers involved in a failed 2015 coup attempt, as early as 5:00 a.m. (0500 GMT), Reuters reporters said.

Burkina Faso government dismisses coup fears as soldiers mutinyHundreds of people came out into the streets in support of the mutineers. Outside the Lamizana camp, a crowd of about 100 sang the national anthem and chanted “Free the country!”

The soldiers responded to each chant by firing into the air. It was not clear if this was meant to show support for the demonstrators or to disperse them.

In downtown Ouagadougou, near the Place de la Nation, police fired teargas to disperse around 300 protesters.

Soldiers also fired into the air at an air base close to Ouagadougou International Airport, according to Reuters reporters. The U.S. embassy also reported gunfire at three other military bases in Ouagadougou and at bases in the northern towns of Kaya and Ouahigouya.

Frustration has been rising in Burkina Faso over the government’s handling of an insurgency by militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State. The deaths of 49 military police in a militant attack in November prompted violent street protests calling for Kabore to step down.

Speaking to reporters in front of the Lamizana camp, one of the mutineers issued a series of demands, including the resignations of the army chief of staff and the head of the intelligence service.

He also called for better welfare for wounded soldiers and their families, and “appropriate” resources and training for the army, which has suffered heavy losses at the hands of the militants.

Burkina Faso’s government confirmed gunfire at some military camps but denied reports on social media that the army had seized power.

Speaking on national television, Defence Minister General Bathelemy Simpore said the reasons for the gunfire were still unclear.

“The head of state has not been detained; no institution of the country has been threatened,” Simpore said. “For now, we don’t know their motives or what they are demanding. We are trying to get in contact with them,” he said.

Kabore was not seen in public. His Twitter account issued a single tweet on Sunday to encourage Burkina Faso’s national soccer team in its Africa Cup of Nations match against Gabon later in the day. It made no mention of events at home.

NetBlocks, an internet blockage observatory, said web access had been disrupted as of around 10 a.m. A spokesperson for the airport said flights had not been cancelled.

Coup Fears

Governments in West and Central Africa are on high alert for coups after successful putsches over the past 18 months in Mali and Guinea. The military also took over in Chad last year after President Idriss Deby died on the battlefield.

Burkinabe authorities arrested a dozen soldiers earlier this month on suspicion of conspiring against the government.

The arrests followed a shake-up within the army’s leadership in December, which some analysts saw as an effort by President Kabore to shore up his support within the military.

Rising violence in Burkina Faso driven by Islamist attacks, part of a larger insurgency in West Africa’s Sahel region, killed over 2,000 people last year.

Anti-government demonstrations were planned for Saturday, but the government banned them and the police intervened to disperse the hundreds of people who tried to assemble in Ouagadougou.

The government has suspended mobile internet service on several occasions, and the tense situation in November led the U.N. special envoy to West Africa to warn against any military takeover.

Among the inmates at the Sangoule Lamizana camp prison is General Gilbert Diendere, who was a top ally of Burkina Faso’s former president, Blaise Compaore. Compaore was overthrown in a 2014 uprising.

Diendere led a failed coup attempt the following year against the transitional government. He was sentenced in 2019 to 20 years in prison. He is also currently on trial in connection with the killing of Compaore’s predecessor, Thomas Sankara, during a coup in 1987.

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