DAKAR / OUAGADOUGOU —
Burkina Faso's army backed a military colonel as the country's transitional leader on Saturday after the resignation of President Blaise Compaore, showing apparent unity within the armed forces after 24 hours of confusion.
Following talks held after Lt. Colonel Isaac Yacouba Zida had declared himself head of state in an early morning radio address, military leaders released a statement confirming that he is in charge.
“Lt. Colonel Zida has been retained unanimously” to lead the transition, said the statement, read by General Pingrenoma Zagré to the nation. “The structure and the duration of this transition will be determined later."
The statement laid to rest reports of a power struggle within the armed forces, saying that any apparent “confusion” and “contradiction” were a by-product of the fast pace at which events unfolded.
Compaore resigned Friday in the face of continued protests.
Both Zida, who was second in command of the presidential guard, and army chief General Honore Traore then declared themselves in charge. General Traore signed the statement Saturday.
The former president fled the country after 27 years in power and four days of some of the biggest and fiercest protests the nation has ever seen.
Many celebrating in the streets said all that matters is that Compaore is gone.
“The president is gone. We are too happy,” one man said. “From now on we can live in peace.”
Young people organized themselves and cleaned the streets of Ouagadougou Saturday at the request of civil society groups, an attempt to restore order.
But analysts warned not to expect a smooth transition.
Possible trouble ahead
Some characterize Compaore’s time in power as “semi-authoritarian” and said he kept any clear capable successors from emerging within the political class.
More than half of the population was born after Compaore came to power in 1987. He’s the only president they’ve ever known.
Burkinabe consider this to be a people's revolution but they looked to the military for interim leadership.
Lt. Col Zida is said to have considerable support from the streets - including the backing of a civic group, the Citizen’s Broom, that was instrumental in the protest movement.
“The power,” Zida said, “belongs to the courageous and combative people of Burkina Faso. No one - I repeat - no one will take this victory away from us.”
The crowd cheered Zida as he made his first public declaration Friday afternoon.
However, people gathered at that same public square Saturday told VOA they are worried about Zida’s ties to the now ex-president. Zida was the number two in Compaore’s elite presidential guard. The presidential guard fired on protesters Thursday, killing at least one person.
Zida suspended the Constitution. He has implemented a curfew and shut the country’s borders.
He has given few details about what’s ahead, other than to say he will create a transitional body with input from all sides to organize democratic elections. He said the goal is a return to constitutional order “as soon as possible” though he can’t say when.
"I call on the international community, in particular countries that are friends and allies of Burkina Faso, notably in the African Union and ECOWAS, to demonstrate their understanding and support our people in this difficult time,'' Zida said.
The United States Friday repeated its call for all sides to follow the constitutionally mandated process for the transfer of power Compaore's resignation.
"We condemn any attempts by the military or other parties to take advantage of the situation for unconstitutional gain and call on all parties to respect the people’s support for the democratic process," State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.
The State Department also issued a travel warning Friday alerting U.S. citizens to incidents of looting throughout the capital city of Ouagadougou, Bobo-Dioulasso, and other parts of the country.
"The situation is dynamic and closures or openings of border and airports are likely to change and remain unpredictable for some time. Currently, land and air borders have been closed."
Compaore stepped down Friday after protesters stormed parliament and set the building ablaze, ending his 27-year reign and sparking a struggle in the military for control of the West African country.
The longtime leader arrived in neighboring Ivory Coast Saturday. Ivorian President Alassane Ouattara confirmed that Compaore, his family and those close to him had crossed into the country. It did not elaborate.
In resigning, Compaore had called for a 90-day transition period leading to elections. He ruled the country for 27 years after seizing power in a 1987 coup.
Unrest had broken out Thursday as lawmakers prepared to vote on a constitutional amendment that would have allowed Compaore to run for another term.
The government withdrew the amendment after protests became violent.
Some material for this report comes from Reuters and the Associated Press.