November 4, 2014 / 1:23 PM / 3 years ago

Burkina military leader pledges to step aside as world watches

Lieutenant Colonel Yacouba Isaac Zida meets with opposition leaders in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, November 2, 2014.Joe Penney

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Burkina Faso's new military ruler has pledged to hand power to a civilian transitional government, an influential tribal ruler said on Tuesday, a day before three West African leaders were due in Ouagadougou to press the army to relinquish power.

The military appointed Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida, deputy commander of the elite presidential guard, as provisional head of state on Saturday. The day before, long-time president Blaise Compaore had stepped down and with the help of France fled to neighboring Ivory Coast.

Compaore resigned as leader of the impoverished West African country on Friday following two days of mass protests sparked by his bid to extend his 27-year rule by amending the constitution. [ID:nL5N0SQ1L3]

In the chaos that followed, the army's move to take control of the transition drew criticism from opposition politicians and international partners.

Zida said on Monday he would quickly transfer power to a consensus government in line with Burkina Faso's constitution. On Tuesday, he met with the influential king of the country's majority Mossi ethnic group, Naba Baongo II, who said Zida had pledged to step aside.

"Lieutenant-Colonel Zida and his delegation came to say that they want to hand power over to civilians and we encourage them to move in this direction," the traditional leader told reporters. "The country must regain its peace and calm."

Zida also met with the head of the constitutional court, which could guide talks on the establishment of a transitional authority that would comply with the national charter.

The African Union on Monday set a two-week deadline for the army to leave power or face sanctions. It dispatched a senior official to the capital, Ouagadougou, in a delegation that also included the United Nations and regional bloc ECOWAS.

Opposition leader Zepherin Diabre told journalists after meeting the delegation that Senegalese President Macky Sall, Goodluck Jonathan of Nigeria and Ghana's John Mahama, who holds ECOWAS's rotating presidency, would travel to Ouagadougou on Wednesday.

"We're already working in the aim of respecting the deadline," Diabre said on Tuesday. "If we don't manage, perhaps (the African Union) will understand," he added, suggesting the opposition might accept an extension to the deadline.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said he was greatly concerned about the crisis in Burkina Faso and reiterated an earlier call for a shift to civilian rule.

FRENCH EVACUATION

The streets of the capital were calm for a second straight day as Burkinabes awaited the outcome of the various consultations.

"President Blaise is gone. I think we must unite for the future of our country," said Alphonse Ouadreogo, a local merchant. "The soldiers must hand power over to civilians so we can have a peaceful transition."

Robert Sangare, director general of the Yalgado Ouedraogo hospital, said on Tuesday that at least seven people had died and 180 were wounded since Thursday's protests began.

During the upheaval, Compaore fled to Ivory Coast and is currently staying in the Ivorian city of Yamoussoukro.

Francois Hollande, president of France, Burkina's former colonizer, confirmed that his country had helped Compaore flee the country. "We did it ... to avoid drama and other convulsions," he told reporters at a press conference in Quebec City.

France bases some of its special forces in the Burkina capital and is the country's main bilateral donor.

Ivory Coast President Alassane Ouattara met with Compaore on Tuesday and told reporters that he was welcome to remain in the country "as long as he would like". He added that Ivory Coast supported a political transition that complied with Burkina Faso's constitution.

Under that constitution, the head of the National Assembly should take office if the president resigns, with a mandate to organize elections within 90 days.

Additional reporting by Ange Aboa and Mathias Drabo; Writing by Joe Bavier and Emma Farge; Editing by Daniel Flynn and Larry King

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