Issouf Sanogo / AFP / Getty Images

Burkina Faso army says it will cede power

Lt. Col. Isaac Zida who is serving as interim president says transfer of power to new leaders will be 'fast'

Burkina Faso's army will cede power to a transitional government and appoint a new head of state, said Lieutenant-Colonel Isaac Zida, the country's interim president.

"We are going to move very fast, but be careful not to commit a mistake that might damage our country," Zida said on Monday adding that a new head of state would be chosen following broad discussions with various groups.

Zida did not specify that the proposed leader would be a civilian and did not provide a timetable.

His announcement came in the wake of crisis meetings late on Sunday and Monday between Zida and opposition leaders after thousands gathered to denounce his appointment in the central Place de la Nation — the scene of violent protests last week during which the parliament was set alight.

Earlier on Monday the African Union's Peace and Security Council, gave the military two weeks to return the country to constitutional rule or face sanctions.

The army stepped into a power vacuum after Blaise Compaoré was forced to resign the presidency last week in the wake of violent demonstrations over an attempt to extend his 27-year-rule. But protests erupted again after Lt. Col. Isaac Zida assumed control of the interim government over the weekend, out of fears he might try to transition the country towards military rule.

"We ask the armed forces to transfer power to the civil authorities, and the council has determined a period of two weeks for the transfer," Simeon Oyono Esono, head of the AU's Peace and Security Council, said on Monday following a meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

"The African Union is convinced that the change has been against democracy. However, we know that popular pressure led to the resignation of the president,” Esono said. "Those circumstances were taken by the armed forces to get into power, but it originated from the people.”

In an emergency meeting with diplomats in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou earlier on Monday, Zida reiterated that the military would cede power to a transitional government, without giving a timeframe for the changeover.

"Our understanding is that the executive powers will be led by a transitional body but within a constitutional framework that we will watch over carefully," Zida said. 

After Zida assumed the leadership role on Saturday, the military said it was acting in the interests of the nation and that "power does not interest us."

But the move promptly sparked angry protests among those concerned one autocratic ruler would simply be replaced by another. The army on Sunday launched a sharp crackdown when several thousand protesters gathered at a rally against the military takeover in the city's central square. One protester was killed.

Some protesters had headed to the national television station headquarters where two opposition leaders made separate attempts to go on air to declare themselves interim leader.

Former defense minister Kouame Lougue, whose name was chanted by thousands in the streets following Compaore's downfall, told the AFP news agency: "The people have nominated me. I came to answer their call."

But the TV technicians walked out, interrupting transmission and foiling another bid by Saran Sereme, a former member of the ruling party, to make her claim as leader.

As of Monday afternoon, the streets in the capital had calmed down, but citizens told Al Jazeera they wanted to see the transition happen as quickly as possible.

Zida on Monday also held meetings with French, American and European Union diplomats, all of who urged him to hand power back to civilian leaders.

Meanwhile, senior opposition figures met with their leader, Zephirin Diabre.

"The political opposition and civil society organizations insist that the victory of the popular uprising belongs to the people and therefore the transition government legitimately falls to them and should under no circumstances be confiscated by the military," Jean-Hubert Bazie, a spokesman for the opposition parties, told Al Jazeera.

Al Jazeera and wire services. Haru Mutasa contributed reporting from Ouagadougou.

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