November 19, 2014 / 12:47 PM / in 3 years

Burkina Faso names army colonel Zida as prime minister

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

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Burkina Faso’s transitional government named Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida as prime minister on Wednesday, four days after he restored the country’s constitution under pressure from the African Union and the West.

Zida declared himself head of state on Nov. 1 after mass protests toppled President Blaise Compaore who then fled the West African country. The African Union had given Zida two weeks to restore civilian rule or face economic sanctions.

As prime minister, Zida, a large, bespectacled man with a trademark red beret, will help Burkina Faso’s newly appointed interim president, Michel Kafando, appoint a 25-member government that will steer the country to new elections in 2015.

Neither Kafando, a former foreign minister and ambassador to the United Nations, nor Zida, deputy head of the presidential guard, will be allowed to stand in next year’s presidential election, according to the terms of a transitional charter adopted last week.

While Western diplomats had advised against Zida’s nomination, hoping Kafando would instead name a civilian figure to head the government, the choice was generally welcomed among members of Burkina Faso’s political class.

“We have seen that he is a capable man. He has vision and he knows what he wants for the country,” said Ablasse Ouedraogo, president of the Le Faso Autrement political party.

Others were pragmatic.

“Zida’s nomination was a useful compromise that allowed us to advance. We need the cohesion of the army to move forward with the transition,” Benewende Stanislas Sankara, head of the opposition UNIR/PS movement, told Reuters.

Compaore triggered protests against his rule last month when he tried to push changes to the constitution through parliament in order to extend his 27-year grip on power.

“We saw what the civilians did before. If the soldier is prime minister, it’s better for all of us,” said Pierre Ilboudo, a mechanic in the capital Ouagadougou.

Compaore was a regional power broker and a key Western ally against Islamist militants. France has a special forces unit based in Burkina Faso as part of a regional counter-terrorism operation. The country has long been one of Africa’s cotton producers and is now also mining gold.

Reporting by Mathieu Bonkoungou and Nadoun Coulibaly; Writing by Emma Farge and Joe Bavier; Editing by David Lewis and Ralph Boulton

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