In conflict-stricken Burkina Faso, hundreds marched in cities across the country to protest insecurity and show solidarity for Mali, recently placed under sanctions by the West African political bloc ECOWAS.
On Saturday morning, just before 9 a.m., around 300 protesters gathered in downtown Ouagadougou, some to show their anger toward the government’s handling of security, others to show solidarity with protests that took place in neighboring Mali last weekend.
Ali Sankara, owner of a shop in the neighborhood of Koulouba, where the protests took place, told VOA, “We are here to protect our property and people, and now [police] are shooting tear gas all over the place. If they cause a fire here, who's going to pay the price? We only came out to protect our property.”
On Thursday, authorities had banned the protests. As a result, the police Saturday were quick to enforce the restrictions after protesters began erecting blockades on one of the city’s main roads. The police detonated a flashbang as they began to use force to break up the crowd.
Since Jan. 10, the government has blocked access to Facebook throughout the country in an apparent effort to prevent protesters from communicating and turning out in large numbers.
Ibrahima Maiga of the Movement to Save Burkina Faso, one of the organizations behind the protests, told VOA, “I think the fact they banned the protests is something that gives us more reason to protest. It is something that should not happen in a country where people claim to be elected. This kind of behavior should happen only in a country where there is no freedom.”
Two of the protest organizers were detained Thursday by authorities.
Burkina Faso’s government has been under pressure from protesters since November. Demonstrations swept the country after an attack on a military base, which had not been supplied with food for two weeks, by terrorists linked to al-Qaida, killing at least 49 military personnel.
In response, President Roch Kabore fired his Cabinet and formed a new one in December. He also fired many of the military’s top commanders to appease critics.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Mali, thousands of citizens turned out last weekend to protest sanctions placed on the country by the West African political bloc ECOWAS. The country’s president, Assimi Goita, took power in a coup last year and is refusing to hold democratic elections for at least another five years, drawing pressure from the international community.
Some of the protesters in Burkina Faso wore T-shirts with images of Goita and expressed solidarity with recent protests in Mali.
Like Mali, Burkina Faso has been embroiled in a six-year conflict with terrorist groups linked to Islamic State, al-Qaida and local banditry.
As he clean the tear gas from his eyes with water, protester Amidou Tiemtore told VOA, “What is happening now in our country is sad … And now, with all that’s happening we are told now is not the time to take to the streets. If this is not the time to march, then when is the time?” he asked.
A government spokesperson was not immediately available to comment on the protests.