One week after coup, Burkina Faso's president says he's back in power

Regional leaders appear to have clinched a deal between feuding military factions and restored the rule of civilian President Michel Kafando ahead of presidential elections due next month. 

Joe Penney/Reuters
Burkina Faso's interim President Michel Kafando (c.) leaves after speaking to the media at the foreign affairs ministry in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, September 23, 2015. Kafando, who was taken hostage during a coup a week ago, said on Wednesday he was back in power and had restored a civilian transitional government.

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Burkina Faso’s president declared he is back in power Wednesday, one week after he was ousted in a coup by a US-trained Army general. 

“I have returned to work,” Interim President Michel Kafando announced Wednesday. He said he was taking back power “this very minute,” reports Reuters.

The apparent resolution to the political crisis came Tuesday night, following an emergency visit by West African leaders. The elite presidential guard (RSP), which carried out the coup in support of Gen. Gilbert Diendere, agreed to return to their barracks, and government troops – who opposed the coup – also agreed to retreat 31 miles (50km) outside of the city in order to deescalate the situation, reports Agence France-Presse.

The deal between the rival military factions was signed one day after soldiers stormed the capital, upping the pressure on the presidential guards and other coup supporters. Earlier in the week, Gen. Diendere had apologized for seizing control and said he planned to hand back power to the transitional government in order avoid further bloodshed, reports The Associated Press.

Some 10 people have been killed and more than 100 injured in clashes over the past week between the presidential guard and protesters in support of Mr. Kafando, reports the BBC.

The restoration of civilian rule comes just weeks before presidential elections are due to be held in Burkina Faso, though mediators proposed new and more inclusive elections in November as part of the negotiations last week. Last year President Blaise Compaoré was forced to resign amid popular protests after he tried to change the Constitution in order to run for a third successive term. 

The interim government that replaced Mr. Compaoré had barred his supporters – including Diendere, the coup leader and senior military aide to Compaoré – from standing in the election.  That decision, combined with calls to disband the RSP, is believed to have triggered last week’s coup.

The junta's relinquishment of power comes as a relief to many in West Africa. The land-locked nation is strategically important for the region – and the US, which “has come to rely on it “as a stabilizing force,” reports The Christian Science Monitor. 

Burkina Faso serves as a rear base for regional counterterrorism operations and contributes troops to both the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali and the US-led Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, which supports regional militaries fighting terrorist groups in the region. To its north lie Mali, battling an Al Qaeda-linked insurgency that once overran almost half of that country, and Niger, rocked by attacks by the Nigeria-based militant group Boko Haram.

“Because Burkina is in such a strategic location in such a troubled region, we need Burkina to stay a relatively stable country,” says Cynthia Ohayon, a West Africa analyst with International Crisis Group. “That would be one more domino that would fall and that would have repercussions.”

Presidential elections are scheduled for Oct. 11.

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