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Soldiers in Burkina Faso say a military junta now controls the country


At the edge of the Sahara Desert in West Africa is the landlocked country of Burkina Faso. It's a one-time French colony, independent since the 1950s. In recent years, it has suffered protests and coups, but it emerged with a democratically elected leader who was in power until last night, which is when people watching state TV in Burkina Faso saw soldiers come on the screen.



INSKEEP: The communique said the soldiers were suspending the constitution and taking over. NPR's Eyder Peralta joins us from his base in South Africa. Hey there, Eyder.


INSKEEP: As best you can determine, what happened?

PERALTA: So look; over the weekend, there was a mutiny among some part of the military. And what we know from witnesses is that the soldiers surrounded the home of President Roch Kabore, and for the next two days, the soldiers traded gunfire with other security forces near the president's home. And the government kept saying, this is not a coup, that the military was still under civilian control, but when the sun went down last night, the coup leaders came on television and said they had taken power. They said they were suspending the constitution and deposing the president and the Parliament. On the statement that they read, the coup leaders said that they had taken power without bloodshed and that some political leaders were under arrest. That said, we don't know the whereabouts or the condition of President Roch Kabore. All we know is that right before these soldiers came on TV, he sent out a tweet on his official account. He asked for the military to lay down their weapons. He wrote, quote, "we must safeguard our democratic achievements."

INSKEEP: Well, let's talk about that. This is an elected leader. I assume at least at some point he had substantial political support in the country. How are people responding to his apparent deposition?

PERALTA: Yeah. They're celebrating. And, you know, as you said, he was democratically elected in 2015, and he represented change in Burkina Faso. He was the first nonmilitary guy to hold power in decades. But over the past couple of years, the violence in Burkina Faso has escalated. It is being led by Islamist insurgents who have moved deeper into the country, and they have continually attacked the military and civilians. And the people of Burkina Faso blame the president for that, and they got tired of the insecurity, and that's what they've been saying on the streets.

INSKEEP: Is this coup in Burkina Faso part of a trend?

PERALTA: In the recent past, we've seen coups in Mali, in Sudan, Chad, Guinea. I just spoke to Ryan Cummings, who is a security analyst at Signal Risk, and he had been warning that Burkina Faso was ripe for a coup. And I asked him if coups were contagious here on the African continent, and he said what is happening is that regional bodies and the U.N., for example, have reacted tepidly to past coups. They have tried to deal with them diplomatically, but they have been reticent to take or even threaten any military intervention. And Ryan Cummings says that this sends a message to militaries across the continent. Let's listen.

RYAN CUMMINGS: I think that the message it sends to a lot of these militaries, you know, in the presence of weak central governance structures is that seizing power, you know, amid a context where you know there will be popular support for such an unconstitutional power grab is quite a low-risk but high-reward undertaking.

PERALTA: Low risk but high rewards. And we should note that so far the reaction from the international community, including the U.S., is to express concern.

INSKEEP: And again, the news here - there's an apparent coup overnight in Burkina Faso. NPR's Eyder Peralta is covering it. Eyder, thanks so much.

PERALTA: Thank you, Steve.

(SOUNDBITE OF NOSAJ THING'S "NIGHTCRAWLER") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.