PARIS (AFP) - Anti-French protesters waving Russian flags and shouting slogans against the West African ECOWAS block rallied in Burkina Faso’s capital Ouagadougou as ECOWAS delegates arrived on a fact-finding mission following the country’s second military coup this year.
Demonstrators shouted slogans criticizing the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) regional bloc and France, the former colonial power in Burkina Faso.
The impoverished Sahel state was plunged into turmoil on Friday, when Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, who had seized power only in January, was toppled by a newly emerged rival, 34-year-old Captain Ibrahim Traoré.
Reporting from the upscale Ouaga 2000 district of the capital, where Burkina Faso’s presidential palace is located, FRANCE 24’s Sophie Lamotte said there were several messages on display at the demonstration.
“Initially, there were a few dozen people expressing their support for the new leader,” said Lamotte. “They were quickly met with hundreds of motorcycles, with people waving Russian flags calling out, ‘Enough with the ECOWAS block, enough with France’ and expressing their support for Russia. It was overall quite a confusing and unclear message.”
After a jittery weekend that also saw violent protests at the French embassy and culture centre following rumors – which turned out to be inaccurate – that the French were shielding Damiba, the former military ruler agreed on Sunday to step down.
The Togolese government on Monday confirmed that Damiba was in Togo after authorities accepted the ousted leader to support “peace in the sub-region”.
The ECOWAS delegation was initially scheduled to arrive on Monday, but the visit was postponed to Tuesday.
Following talks in Ouagadougou on Tuesday, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou said he was “satisfied” with the ECOWAS delegation meeting with Burkina Faso’s new junta leader.
Issoufou added that the bloc would continue accompanying Burkina Faso’s transition to constitutional rule.
The regional ECOWAS bloc, designed to promote democracy in one of the world’s most volatile regions, has witnessed five coups among three of its 15 members in little more than two years.
Its approach has been to urge junta leaders to set a relatively short timetable for restoring civilian rule – and to impose sanctions against those deemed to be ignoring the demand or sidestepping their pledges.
But it has also taken flak, with some critics accusing it of supporting Western, or specifically French, interests.
In a statement released Tuesday, Traoré said the ECOWAS visit was to “make contact with the new transition authorities” as part of the support that ECOWAS provided to Burkina Faso.
He said he had learned “with astonishment and regret” that messages had circulated on social media “calling for this mission to be hampered” and urged calm and restraint.