While gunfire rang out in the streets, Burkina Faso’s military took to the airwaves Thursday to declare it now controls the West African country, confirming that a coup has taken place just weeks before elections.
The announcement broadcast on national television and radio was read by an army lieutenant colonel wearing a camouflage uniform and cap who sat in front of a blue background. The statement said the country’s transitional government had been dissolved and the interim president was no longer in power.
The coup leaders, who come from an elite presidential guard unit that had disagreed publicly with the transitional government in recent months, identified themselves as the National Council for Democracy.
Their public statement confirmed what many suspected Wednesday when the transitional president and prime minister were arrested and barricades were erected around the presidency.
Hours later, the coup leaders announced that a military general and former aide to the former longtime president now leads Burkina Faso. Gen. Gilbert Diendere had been head of the elite presidential guard until President Blaise Compaore was ousted in a popular uprising that was sparked by his bid to prolong his rule.
The communique also said that the land and air borders were now closed, and that a curfew would be in effect from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m.
The international community swiftly condemned the coup, which violated the country’s constitution. The United States said it is “deeply concerned” about the events unfolding.
“The United States strongly condemns any attempt to seize power through extra-constitutional means or resolve internal political disagreements using force,” said a statement issued by State Department spokesman John Kirby.
The early morning communique read by Lt. Col. Mamadou Bamba criticized the electoral code, which blocked members of the ex-president’s party from taking part in the Oct. 11 elections. Anyone who supported the ex-president’s bid to amend the constitution so he could seek another term is also banned from running.
Bamba on Thursday announced the beginning of a “coherent, fair and equitable process” that would lead to inclusive elections.
The transitional government came to power after Compaore, the president of 27 years, was ousted late last year in a public uprising. Demonstrators at one point had set fire to the parliament building to protest his move to amend the constitution so he could prolong his rule.
Burkina Faso hosts French special forces and serves as an important ally of both France and the United States in the fight against Islamic militants in West Africa. While Burkina Faso has largely been spared from extremist violence, a Romanian national was abducted in April, and a Mali-based jihadi group claimed responsibility.