Presidential guards fire shots in Burkina Faso protest

OUAGADOUGOU (AFP) – Dozens of members of Burkina Faso President Blaise Compaore's personal guard fired shots into the air in apparent protests in two army barracks in the capital Friday, according to an AFP journalist.

Small and heavy arms fire, which was clearly audible outside the presidential compound, first came from the barracks of the elite and well-paid presidential guard located inside the 20-hectare (50-acre) area.

The movement later spread to guard barracks which are about three kilometres (two miles) from the presidential palace and to the streets where more shots were fired.

The home of General Dominique Diendiere, Compaore's personal chief of staff, which is located in the second barracks, was trashed, a military official said.

Earlier, tens of thousands of people across the landlocked African country marched in protest against Compaore's regime in the biggest demonstrations seen in many years in the capital Ouagadougou.

It was not immediately clear what had caused the shooting.

But an officer of the presidential guard told AFP on condition of anonymity that a number of soldiers fired shots in the air in protest at outstanding housing subsidies they said had been promised.

"A couple of young soldiers have gone crazy," a source at the barracks told AFP when contacted. "We're dealing with it," the source added but so far the soldiers would not negotiate.

An ambulance could later be seen leaving the compound.

In late March, angry soldiers seized military equipment in several towns including the capital, firing shots in the air, looting shops and freeing soldiers who had been serving time for rape and other sex crimes.

Compaore had met members of the armed forces after the incidents and said the crisis was over after the meetings.

He has faced a series of protests against his regime since February, with first students then soldiers staging protests against his rule.

Six people, including four students and a policeman, were killed in riots in late February in the town of Koudougou, 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of Ouagadougou, after a student died in disputed circumstances.

Thursday's marches were organised by the National Coalition against the High Cost of Living (CCVC), an alliance of trade unions, consumer organisations, rights groups and small businesses.

"We came out in the tens of thousands today to shout out that we have had it up to here with the high cost of living," said CCVC coordinator Tole Sagnon, who also heads up the Burkina General Confederation of Labour (CGT-B).

The protesters also wanted to express their anger at what he said was the regime's "multiple crimes", he added.

"Compaore, the people are hungry," the marchers chanted. "Compaore, the people want justice."

Other marchers shouted slogans related to the 1998 murder of investigative journalist Norbert Zongo.

Zongo's bullet-riddled body, together with that of his brother and two colleagues, was found in their burnt-out car.

Media rights campaigners have accused the regime of having covered up the true facts surrounding the killings.

Marches also took place in 10 other towns across the country, with unions and local residents saying that there had been thousands of people in the streets.

Compaore, a former army captain, took power in a coup that deposed Thomas Sankara, who was killed.

In November he was re-elected in the first round with more than 80 percent of the vote.

Other news