October 7, 2014 / 2:28 PM / 3 years ago

Burkina Faso talks over referendum on term limits collapse

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Talks aimed at easing tension between Burkina Faso's ruling party and the opposition have broken down without resolving the issue of whether President Blaise Compaore can seek constitutional changes to stay in power beyond next year.

The dialogue, which began last week, was meant to address a number of reforms, including whether or not to hold a referendum over the limit on presidential terms so Compaore does not have to stand down at elections next year.

In power since a 1987 coup, Compaore is a leading mediator in regional crises and a key ally for Western nations fighting al Qaeda-linked militant groups in West Africa. However, he also faces growing dissent, and an army mutiny in 2011 highlighted the potential threats to his rule.

Zephirin Diabre, head of the opposition delegation, said they had suspended participation in the dialogue after a deadlock over the referendum issue.

Diabre blamed the president's camp for the failure to make any progress. "We ... are dismayed at the clear will of the president to hold a referendum come what may," he said.

Assimi Kouanda, leader of Compaore's CDP party, said the breakdown was the fault of the opposition.

Compaore has not publicly confirmed his stance but the CDP has held rallies in support of the project and said a referendum is the only way of resolving the issue, which has deeply divided the West African nation, one of the world's poorest.

Opposition leaders have held counter rallies and said they would do everything they legally could to prevent the referendum from being held.

Burkina Faso has a growing gold mining sector but, perched on the southern rim of the Sahara, it regularly struggles with poor harvests.

Compaore won 81 percent of the vote in the last election in 2010 but was confronted by protests by the usually loyal military in 2011 and has seen dozens of members of his party quit this year, setting the stage for a potential crisis.

Reporting by Mathieu Bonkoungou; Writing by David Lewis; Editing by Mark Heinrich

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