By Mathieu Bonkoungou and Nadoun Coulibaly
OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) – Pro-coup demonstrators in Burkina Faso on Sunday stormed a hotel due to host talks aimed at restoring a civilian interim government and attacked participants arriving for the meeting, witnesses said.
Some of the protesters carried signs expressing support for a military junta headed by the elite presidential guard, the RSP, which burst into a cabinet meeting on Wednesday, disrupting a transition period due to end with elections on Oct. 11.
“They invaded the hotel. It was violent,” said a Reuters witness. “They attacked ex-opposition members as they arrived. One had to be saved from the crowd by security forces.”
Most of the participants in the talks, including foreign ambassadors, had already arrived at the Laico Hotel in the capital Ouagadougou when the incident occurred.
“I am with my colleagues. We are okay. We have not been taken hostage. We are free,” France’s ambassador to Burkina Faso Gilles Thibault said via his Twitter account.
The U.S. embassy in Ouagadougou also announced that its ambassador was safe.
Senegal’s President Macky Sall, the current chairman of West Africa’s regional bloc ECOWAS who is leading the mediation efforts, later left the hotel.
It was unclear if the negotiations, which were meant to be attended by, among others, members of the civil society, political parties and the military, would go ahead in spite of the violence.
Anti-coup demonstrators had been grouping across the street from the hotel on Sunday morning ahead of the meeting when members of the RSP presidential guard arrived and began beating them, another witness said.
They sought refuge inside the hotel grounds, but more presidential guards, some wearing balaclavas hiding their faces, arrived shortly after and fired shots in the air to disperse them. The soldiers were accompanied by the pro-coup demonstrators who then stormed the lobby of the hotel.
The witnesses said they recognized several of the pro-coup protesters as militants from the Congress for Democracy and Progress (CDP), the former ruling party under ex-president Blaise Compaore.
Compaore was ousted last year in a popular uprising by those opposed to his attempts to change the constitution and extend his 27-year rule. The country had since been headed by a transitional government charged with organizing next month’s elections.
General Gilebert Diendere, Compaore’s former spy chief and right hand man, said he carried out the coup over plans to disband the presidential guard and because several of the former president’s allies were barred from taking part in the polls.
Benin’s President Thomas Boni Yayi, who has been mediating in the crisis alongside Senegal’s Sall, said on Saturday that the talks were expected to lead to the reinstatement of President Michel Kafando’s interim government on Sunday.
(Additional reporting by Joe Penney; Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Clelia Oziel)
Courtesy of www.reuters.com