Demonstrators Storm Parliament in Burkina FasoOctober 30, 2014 in Burkina Faso
30 October– Thousands of protesters have stormed Burkina Faso’s parliament and set the building on fire in Ouagadougou, forcing police to withdraw ahead of a vote on a motion to allow the president to stand for re-election. The military has fired live bullets in an attempt to disperse the protesters. The crowd reportedly then headed towards the Prime Minister’s office. One witness has reported that a government helicopter flew overhead, shooting tear gas canisters at protesters.
Earlier, violent clashes broke out in Ouagadougou during a second day of protests denouncing President Blaise Compaore’s plan to seek re-election for another five-year term. Students and members of the largest labour coalition marched in the Burkina Faso capital, some wielding iron bars and stones. Security forces clashed with stone-throwing demonstrators for hours, using tear gas and water cannons in an attempt to disperse the crowds, and dismantling makeshift traffic barricades outside the National Assembly and Place de la Nation. Opposition leaders have said that nearly a million people have taken to the streets to prevent the change to the constitutional article.
President Compaore, who has been in power for 27 years, seeks to amend Article 37 of Burkina Faso’s constitution, which sets term limits on presidential powers. In 1987, Compaore seized power following a coup in which Thomas Sankara, was ousted and assassinated. Compaore has been re-elected president four times since 1991, twice to seven year terms, and twice to five year terms. In 2005, constitutional limits were introduced; Compaore nearing the end of his second five-year term. His proposal to amend Article 37 would allow him to run for a fifth term in the 2015 elections. Opposition leaders call the move a constitutional coup, fearing the new rules would enable Compaore to seek re-election three more times, allowing up to 15 more years in power.
The country’s parliament will vote today on whether to hold a referendum allowing the change. If the amendment passes by at least 75 percent of the parliamentarians, Compaore will be allowed to run in the 2015 elections. If support falls short of 75 percent, the bill will be put to a public referendum. Over the weekend, the nation’s third largest party in parliament said it would back the amendment, setting the Compaore on course to pass the amendment without resorting to a referendum.
The nation’s largest opposition group asked the police to allow the public inside the National Assembly to watch the vote, and has called for a blockade of parliament as the legislature examines the proposed amendment. The government has urged protesters to show restraint following heavy clashes on Wednesday.
The U.S. and United Nations have both called for restraint by the government and protesters. The European Union said the planned constitutional change should be scrapped, warning that it could “jeopardise… stability, equitable development and democratic progress”.
Sixty percent of Burkina’s population is under 25, and have spent their entire lives under the leadership of Compaore. Frustration has erupted into outcry as the country has stagnated under his rule, ranking 183rd out of 186 countries on the UN human development index.