By Thiam Ndiaga and Anne Mimault
OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) -Armed soldiers in fatigues and masks appeared on television in Burkina Faso on Friday night to confirm the ouster of President Paul-Henri Damiba, the second coup in the troubled West African country this year.
The announcement capped a day that began with gunfire near a military camp in the capital Ouagadougou, an explosion near the presidential palace, and interruptions to state television programming.
It is a pattern that has become increasingly familiar in West and Central Africa in the past two years as Islamist insurgents wreak havoc across the arid expanses of the Sahel region, killing thousands and eroding faith in weak governments that have not found a way to beat them back.
Mali, Chad, and Guinea have all seen coups since 2020, raising fears of a backslide towards military rule in a region that had made democratic progress over the past decade.
Burkina Faso’s new leader is army Captain Ibrahim Traore. In a scene that replicated Damiba’s own power grab in a Jan. 24 coup, Traore appeared on television surrounded by soldiers and announced the government was dissolved, the constitution suspended and the borders closed. He declared a nightly curfew.
Damiba’s whereabouts were unknown on Friday evening.
Traore said a group of officers who helped Damiba seize power in January had decided to remove their leader due to his inability to deal with the Islamists. Damiba ousted former President Roch Kabore for the same reason.
“Faced with the deteriorating situation, we tried several times to get Damiba to refocus the transition on the security question,” said the statement signed by Traore and read out by another officer on television.
The statement said Damiba had rejected proposals by the officers to reorganise the army and instead continued with the military structure that had led to the fall of the previous regime.
“Damiba’s actions gradually convinced us that his ambitions were diverting away from what we set out to do. We decided this day to remove Damiba,” it said.
National stakeholders will be invited soon to adopt a new transitional charter and designate a new civilian or military president, it said.
Civilian populations have cheered military juntas in the hope that they may be more successful at containing the insurgents than their democratically elected predecessors. But hope has faded fast.
Burkina Faso has become the epicentre of violence carried out by groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State that began in neighbouring Mali in 2012 and has spread to other West African countries south of the Sahara Desert.
Thousands have been killed in raids on rural communities and millions have been forced to flee. This week, at least 11 soldiers died in an attack in northern Burkina Faso. Dozens of civilians are still missing.
Friday’s coup creates a conundrum for West Africa’s political bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has tried to persuade coup leaders in the region to return to civilian rule as soon as possible.
ECOWAS suspended Burkina Faso after the January coup but had since agreed to a two-year transition back to democratic elections.
“ECOWAS reaffirms its unreserved opposition to any taking or maintaining of the power by unconstitutional means,” it said in a statement.
It demanded “scrupulous respect for the timeline already agreed with the Transitional Authorities for a return to constitutional order no later than July 1, 2024.”
(Writing by Nellie Peyton, Edward McAllister and Sofia Christensen; Editing by Bate Felix and Sandra Maler)