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Burkina Faso Army Chief Dissolves Parliament After Unrest


Burkina Faso's army chief dissolved parliament Thursday and announced plans for a transitional government.

General Honore Traore said in a statement that the transitional government would return the country to constitutional order "within 12 months.” He also declared a national curfew from 7 p.m. Thursday until 6 a.m. Friday (1900-0600 GMT).

Earlier, President Blaise Compaore declared a state of emergency and called for talks with the opposition after hundreds of protesters pushed their way past riot police and set fire to parliament. Police responded with tear gas and water cannon. Other government buildings and a state TV station were also attacked.

At least three protesters were killed when security forces opened fire on the crowds in Ouagadougou, the capital.

Government officials said there were also large-scale protests in Bobo Dioulasso, Burkina's second-largest town, and Ouahigouya, to the north.

Proposed amendment

The unrest erupted as lawmakers prepared to vote on a proposed constitutional amendment to allow Compaore to run for another term in next year's elections. The ruling party has been pushing for months to amend the constitution to eliminate a two-term limit for presidents that went into effect in 2000.

Opposition parties have objected to the ruling party's efforts and had called on people to take to the streets starting at 5 a.m. Thursday to block access to the National Assembly.

Opposition leader Zephirin Diabre said on his Twitter feed Thursday that the opposition was against a coup in Burkina Faso.

"We do not endorse the seizure of power by force. We just want respect for democracy," Diabre said.

Traore said he was dissolving the government "given the serious deterioration of the situation, given the state of dysfunction the institutions of the republic are in, given the need to protect the country from chaos and ensure national unity."

Compaore, 63, who has ruled Burkina Faso since seizing power in a 1987 coup, is a key ally for former colonial power France.

France has thousands of troops fighting al-Qaida-linked Islamists in the region, and it has about 3,600 nationals in Burkina Faso. France also operates a special forces base in Burkina Faso that regularly launches operations in the Sahel-Sahara region.

France, US reaction

On Thursday, France called for calm in Burkina Faso. Earlier in the week, it urged Compaore to adhere to the African Union charter, which bans constitutional revisions aimed at preventing political change.

The U.S. State Department also expressed concern Thursday about the constitutional amendment. It urged Burkina Faso's people to shun violence and debate the issue in a "peaceful and inclusive" manner.

The U.S. Embassy in Burkina Faso has told staff members to shelter in place and is urging Americans in the country to avoid protests or large gatherings.

National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan also issued a statement regarding the situation in Burkina Faso.

“The United States is deeply concerned about the deteriorating situation in Burkina Faso resulting from efforts to amend the constitution to enable the incumbent head of state to seek another term after 27 years in office,” the statement read.

“We believe democratic institutions are strengthened when established rules are adhered to with consistency. We call on all parties, including the security forces, to end the violence and return to a peaceful process to create a future for Burkina Faso that will build on Burkina Faso’s hard-won democratic gains," Meehan said.

VOA's Zoumana Wonogo contributed to this report from Ouagadougou. Anne Look contributed to this report from Dakar. Some material for this report came from Reuters and AFP.