By Thiam Ndiaga and Anne Mimault
OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) – Continuous gunfire rang out from several military camps in Burkina Faso on Sunday as rebel soldiers demanded more government support for the fight against Islamist militants and the withdrawal of military positions and intelligence commanders.
The government appealed for calm, dismissing speculation on social media that the army had seized power or arrested President Roch Kabore.
Heavy gunfire was heard for the first time at Ouagadougou’s Sangoule Lamizana camp, home to a prison where inmates including soldiers took part in a failed coup attempt, Reuters reporters said. in 2015, as early as 5 a.m. (05:00 GMT), Reuters reporters said.
Hundreds of people took to the streets to support the mutants. Outside the Lamizana camp, a crowd of about 100 people sang the national anthem and chanted “Liberate the country!”
The soldiers responded to each chant by shooting into the air. It is unclear whether this was intended to show support for the protesters or to disperse them.
In downtown Ouagadougou, near Place de la Nation, police fired tear gas to disperse about 300 protesters.
Soldiers also opened fire in the air at an air base near Ouagadougou International Airport, according to Reuters reporters. The US Embassy also reported shootings at three other military bases in Ouagadougou and at bases in the northern towns of Kaya and Ouahigouya.
Frustration is growing in Burkina Faso over the government’s handling of an uprising by militants with links to al Qaeda and the Islamic State. The deaths of 49 military policemen in an attack in November prompted violent street protests calling for Kabore’s resignation.
Speaking to reporters in front of the Lamizana camp, one of the mutants made a series of demands, including the resignation of the army chief of staff and the head of intelligence.
He also called for better welfare for the wounded and their families, as well as “appropriate” training and resources for the military, which has suffered heavy losses at the hands of the militants.
Burkina Faso’s government confirmed shootings at several military camps but denied on social media that the army had taken over.
Speaking on national television, Defense Minister General Bathelemy Simpore said the reason for the shooting was still unclear.
Simpore said: “The head of state is not detained; No institution of the country is threatened”. “At the moment, we don’t know their motives or what they’re asking. We’re trying to get in touch with them,” he said.
Kabore is not seen in public. His Twitter (NYSE:) account issued a single tweet on Sunday cheering on the Burkina Faso national football team in their Africa Cup of Nations game against Gabon later in the day. It does not refer to events at home.
NetBlocks, an internet congestion observatory, said web access was disrupted at around 10am. An airport spokesman said flights had not yet been cancelled.
Governments in West and Central Africa are on high alert for coups following successful negotiations over the past 18 months in Mali and Guinea. The army also took over Chad last year after President Idriss Deby died on the battlefield.
Burkinabe authorities arrested dozens of soldiers earlier this month on suspicion of plotting against the government.
The arrests followed a shake-up among the military leadership in December, which some analysts saw as President Kabore’s attempt to bolster his support within the military.
Violence has increased in Burkina Faso due to attacks by Islamist forces, part of a larger insurgency in West Africa’s Sahel region, which killed more than 2,000 people last year.
Anti-government protests were planned for Saturday, but the government banned them and police intervened to disperse hundreds of people trying to gather in Ouagadougou.
The government has suspended mobile Internet service several times, and tensions in November prompted the United Nations special envoy to West Africa to warn against any military takeover.
Among the prisoners at the Sangoule Lamizana camp’s prison was General Gilbert Diendere, who was a top ally of former Burkina Faso president Blaise Compaore. Compaore was ousted in a 2014 uprising.
Diendere led a failed coup attempt the following year against the transitional government. He was sentenced to 20 years in prison in 2019. He is also currently on trial in connection with the murder of Compaore’s predecessor, Thomas Sankara, during a 1987 coup.