Burkina Faso leader says he will not resign

Amid deadly protests, President Compaore said he would head a transitional government once parliament is dissolved

Burkina Faso's longtime leader refused to resign Thursday in the face of violent protests that posed the greatest threat to his nearly three-decade rule, saying instead he will lead a transitional government after parliament was dissolved.

Protesters stormed the parliament building and set part of it ablaze in a day of violence around the country to stop a parliamentary vote on Thursday that would have allowed President Blaise Compaore to seek a fifth term in office. At least one person was killed and several others were wounded amid the melee, authorities said, and a curfew was put in place from 7 p.m. to 6 a.m. A state of emergency was imposed for several hours but lifted late Thursday.

In a concession to the protesters, the government withdrew the bill from consideration. But the move did not placate the protesters, and Army Gen. Honore Traore, the joint chief of staff, later announced that government and parliament had been dissolved and a new, inclusive government would be named.

After hours of confusion about whether Compaore would hold on to power or even where he was, the president spoke briefly on television and radio to stay he was still in charge and would not step down.

"I am available to open discussions with all parties," he said in a recorded address. The transitional government will include representatives from all sides and work to hold elections within 12 months.

U.S. State Department spokesperson Jen Psaki said in a statement late Thursday that the U.S. welcomed Compaore's decision to withdraw the bill that would have allowed him to run again.

"We also welcome his decision to form a government of national unity to prepare for national elections and to transfer power to a democratically elected successor," the statement said.

Demonstrators, however, made it plain they did not want any role for Compaore in a transition.

"We want Blaise Compaore to leave. We want change," said George Sawadogo, a 23-year-old student.

It was unclear if the opposition would agree to join a unity government, and the unrest unleashed Thursday underscored the threat Compaore now faces as frustrations mount in one of the world's poorest countries. In a sign of the growing unrest, crowds also attacked the homes of government ministers and looted shops in the country's second-largest city, Bobo Dioulasso, witnesses said.

'It's over for the regime'

"It is over for the regime!" and "We do not want him again!" shouted demonstrators when they heard that the vote on term limits had been stopped.

The moves follow unrest during which hundreds of people broke through a heavy security cordon and stormed the National Assembly building in the capital Ouagadougou, ransacking offices and setting fire to cars, before attacking the national television headquarters.

Police had tried to control the crowds using tear gas, but the demonstrators were able to push through the barricades and make their way into parliament, where flames enveloped the main building in the complex as many politicians fled to a nearby hotel.

The crowd then headed towards the presidential palace as a government helicopter flew overhead, shooting tear gas at protesters.

Security forces fired live rounds and tear gas at protesters near the presidency in the Ouaga 2000 neighborhood, the Reuters news agency reported.

Regional West African bloc ECOWAS had said earlier on Thursday that it would not accept any party seizing power through non-constitutional means - suggesting diplomatic pressure to leave Compaore in place.

A delegation from the African Union, the United Nations and ECOWAS was due In Burkina Faso on Friday to hold talks with all parties involved.

Compaore first came to power following the October 1987 coup against then-President Thomas Sankara, Compaore's longtime friend and political ally who ultimately was killed in the power grab.

He has been elected four times since, though the opposition has disputed the results.

Since coming to power in a coup, Compaore, 63, has refashioned himself as an elder statesman who brokered electoral disputes and hostage releases throughout the region.    

Al Jazeera and wire services

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