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Burkina Faso’s Self-Proclaimed Leader Says Situation Is ‘Under Control’

DAKAR, Senegal – Burkina Faso’s self-proclaimed military leader said on Sunday that the insecure situation that has gripped the West African nation since a mutiny of soldiers announced a coup on Friday was “under control”, but stopped short of announcing that the ousted leader had withdrew.

The statement read on national television by self-proclaimed leader Captain Ibrahim Traoré was the latest development in the unrest that has rocked Burkina Faso, a country of 21 million that has endured two coups in eight months. Protests erupted on Saturday against ousted leader Lt. Col. Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who refused to relinquish power and warned of a “fratricidal war” if Captain Traoré did not step down.

In his statement, Captain Traoré also called on protesters in Ouagadougou, the capital, to stop vandalism against the French embassy, ​​which was attacked on Saturday and again on Sunday morning.

Captain Traoré had accused France, the country’s former colonial power, of helping Colonel Damiba stage a comeback. The French Foreign Ministry denied any involvement and Captain Traoré later retracted his comments.

But an hour after Captain Traoré called for calm on Sunday, dozens of protesters showed no intention of stopping and took some razor blades down from the walls of the French embassy, ​​according to videos shared on social media. No security forces from Burkina Faso could be seen around the embassy.

Indeed, as Captain Traoré left the national television headquarters around noon on Sunday in a black pickup truck, shouts of “Merci” and “Our President” could be heard, delivering a message: France – which has special forces in a camp on the outskirts of ​the city. capital — had to leave.

“Traoré should issue a note ordering France to leave Burkina Faso now,” said Seydou Zongo, a protester who said he was unemployed.

It felt like history was repeating itself: After Colonel Damiba took power in January, Russian flags were unfurled in Ouagadougou and protesters called on the new military leader to reject lingering French influence.

Even as Col. Damiba said during his eight-month tenure that he was seeking new partners and met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey V. Lavrov last month at the United Nations General Assembly in New York, factions of the military saw him as also close to France . Across West African countries, an anti-French sentiment has emerged in recent years, and Burkina Faso now seems to epitomize this frustration.

But France has no increased presence in Burkina Faso – unlike in Mali, where in August it ended a nine-year military operation that failed to stop an Islamist insurgency – and there was no enhanced partnership under Colonel Damiba’s leadership.

Still, Roland Ouedraogo, a protester who demonstrated on Sunday in front of the French embassy, ​​said: “We want to change partners. No to France and Traoré should go to Russia soon.”

Confusion began in Burkina Faso early Friday morning when shots rang out around the presidential palace. By the end of the day, a group of officers had announced on national television that Captain Traoré was the country’s new leader and accused Colonel Damiba of failing to crush extremists who have blockaded cities in the country’s north and east, attacked security forces and killed. dozens of civilians.

Just eight months earlier, Colonel Damiba had seized power and ousted the civilian, democratically elected president, Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, for similar reasons.

Colonel Damiba argued that a military leader would be better positioned to lead a war against Islamist insurgents, but during his tenure the security situation worsened on many fronts, analysts say.

In the short term, the coup is likely to worsen a dire security and humanitarian situation in Burkina Faso, where nearly 10 percent of the population has been displaced by violence by extremists, many of them linked to Islamist groups.

All humanitarian operations had been suspended from Saturday, and humanitarian aircraft immobilized, according to to Tom Peyre-Costa, spokesman for the Norwegian Refugee Council in West and Central Africa.

The coup was almost unanimously condemned by regional and international organizations such as the United Nations, the African Union and the European Union, as well as countries such as France and the United States.

As of Sunday, Russia had not commented on the coup.

But Yevgeny V. Prigozhin, an associate of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia and founder of the Wagner Group, a shadowy private military company that has fought on Russia’s side in the war in Ukraine and with the armies of Mali and the Central African Republic, on Saturday praised Captain Traoré’s power grab.

And a pro-Kremlin analyst who often appears on state television said that “our people helped the new leader.” The analyst, Sergei Markov, could not be reached for comment.