Tuesday marked the first day of a two-day national strike in Burkina Faso, called by union leaders to protest the high cost of living. The government recently took measures to ease the impact of high food prices , but unions say the authorities must do more. Nancy Palus reports from VOA's regional bureau in Dakar that by midday local time, there was calm in the Burkinabe capital.
Most shops and outdoor markets were closed in the capital, Ouagadougou. Most schools, banks and gas stations were also closed.
Anti-riot police were posted throughout the city, many gathering at main intersections. In Burkina Faso as well as other countries in West Africa, recent demonstrations against rising food and fuel prices have turned violent.
Union leaders in Burkino Faso acknowledge that the government has taken measures to curb the high cost of living, including a continued suspension of import taxes and a reduction in water and electricity prices. But they say those measures are not enough.
Laurent Ouedraogo, who currently holds the rotating presidency of the National Confederation of Workers Union, says that after the strike union leaders will return to the negotiating table with the government, because, he says, the dialogue has not broken off. But, he says, the unions wanted to go ahead with their strike to emphasize the people's frustration.
He says unions are using a civilized and legal means to get their point across. He says a strike should not be accompanied by violence, because, he says, destruction does not solve anything.
Among other changes, the unions continue to call for a 25 percent increase in salaries and pensions for public and private workers.
While many people are showing their support for the strike as a way to call the government's attention to their difficulties, staying away from work means a loss of revenue that many people cannot afford.
Zakaria Ouedraogo, whose last name is common in Burkina Faso, a 21-year-old shop owner in the Patte d'Oie neighborhood of the capital, says he opened his shop for only a few hours to make enough money to feed his family.
One woman who sells fabric in Ouagadougou, tells VOA that families are struggling to make ends meet and they are not yet feeling a positive impact from the government's measures.
The woman, who refused to give her name, says while merchants might lose money in a national strike, they must accept that. She says there is a saying in her language, Dioula, that sometimes you have to accept losing something now in order to gain something in the future.
Residents of Burkina Faso's second major city, Bobo Dioulasso, tell VOA only a few businesses there were observing the strike as of Tuesday afternoon.
Unions have called for the nationwide strike to last through Wednesday.