Burkina Faso’s president, Blaise Compaoré, one of Africa’s longest-serving leaders, has been swept from power after 27 years by a violent popular uprising.
Compaoré announced his resignation on Friday as hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in protest at plans to extend his rule. The head of the armed forces, General Honoré Traoré, said he had taken charge of the west African country.
Like so many strongmen before him, Compaoré was forced to abandon the luxurious trappings of the presidential palace and flee for safety as his regime collapsed. A heavily armed convoy believed to be carrying the 63-year-old was seen travelling on Friday towards the southern town of Po, near the border with Ghana, according to sources quoted by Reuters. It was not clear whether he would seek asylum.
Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida of the presidential guard had earlier announced Compaoré’s departure in the central Place de la Nation in the capital, Ouagadougou, to cheering from a huge crowd of protesters.
Outside the army headquarters, Colonel Boureima Farta, hoisted on the shoulders of other officers, declared: “As of today, Compaoré is no longer in power.”
It was a defining moment for the country’s young population, many of whom were not born when Compaoré came to power in a 1987 coup in which Thomas Sankara, his former friend and one of Africa’s most revered leaders, was ousted and assassinated.
Compaoré issued a statement on Friday that said: “In order to preserve the democratic gains, as well as social peace … I declare a vacancy of power with a view to allowing a transition that should finish with free and transparent elections in a maximum period of 90 days.”
The announcement, read out on state television, was a sudden change from Thursday when Compaoré vowed to hold on to power through next year, after protesters stormed parliament and other official buildings, ransacking them and setting them on fire.
Opposition leaders said about 30 people died in Thursday’s violence. Agence France-Presse was only able to confirm four deaths and six seriously injured, based partly on reports from the capital’s main hospital.
For months, an opposition coalition has been urging Compaoré not to seek re-election next year, in what would have been his fifth term in power. But Compaoré and his ruling party looked set to push a bill through parliament on Thursday that would have allowed him to run again.
Protesters overran the parliament, the vote was suspended and the military announced the legislature had been dissolved and a transition government would be formed. Compaoré said he would lead the government until new elections next year.
But demonstrators rejected that plan and gathered again on Friday, demanding Compaoré step down immediately.