Joe Penney / Reuters

Military rule sparks protests in Burkina Faso

Demonstrators in Ouagadougou are calling for a return to civilian rule, one day after the military seized power

Thousands gathered on Sunday in the center of Burkina Faso's capital to denounce what they called a military coup following the resignation Friday of President Blaise Compaore. The fresh protests come amid international calls for the country’s new military leader to abide by Burkina Faso’s constitution, which requires a civilian to govern if the president resigns.

Protesters calling for a return to civilian rule gathered at Place de la Nation on Sunday in the center of Ouagadougou to denounce the army's power grab. A day earlier, Presidential Guard Lt. Col. Isaac Zida was appointed transitional leader, trumping competing claims by the army’s chief of staff and putting to rest a power struggle between military factions.

According to Burkina Faso's constitution, the head of the National Assembly should take office if the president resigns. After 27 years in office, Compaore stepped down on Friday following two days of violent protests against his bid to change the constitution to extend his rule.

The unrest of the last week has brought bloodshed, with at least three people killed in protests, during which the parliament building was stormed and set on fire. On Sunday, gunfire rang out near the state news agency headquarters, Reuters reported.

Condemnation of the military’s seizure of power has come from the United Nations, African Union and United States.

A U.N. official on Sunday rejected Zida’s new role as transitional leader, but expressed cautious optimism about a return to civilian rule.

"We are hoping for a transition led by civilians in line with the constitution," said Mohammed Ibn Chambas, head of the U.N. Office for West Africa.

"He [Zida] said he will reflect and try to work with the U.N., African Union and the Economic Community of West African States and to find an acceptable agreement which conforms to the constitution," Ibn Chambas added.

A statement issued by military leaders after Zida’s appointment said the form and duration of the transition would be decided in consultation with all sections of society.

A coalition of opposition parties and civil society groups met late on Saturday, issuing a statement opposing the military’s interference in the government’s transition.

"The victory of the popular uprising – and consequently the management of the transition – belongs to the people and should not in any way be confiscated by the army," the coalition said.

"Our consultation reaffirmed that this transition should be democratic and civilian in character," it said, announcing a demonstration in the vast Place de la Nation for Sunday morning.

In a statement, the African Union called for the military to hand power back to civilian authorities. It said the Peace and Security Council – the 54-nation bloc’s wing that imposes sanctions for violations of democratic process – would discuss the situation on Monday.

"The Chairperson of the [African Union] Commission ... stresses the duty and obligation of the defense and security forces to place themselves at the disposal of the civilian authorities who should lead the transition," read the statement.

Likewise, the U.S. State Department called on Burkina Faso’s military to transfer power to civilian authorities "immediately.”

Al Jazeera and wire services

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