Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba was overthrown late Friday only nine months after he’d mounted a coup himself in Burkina Faso, which has been failing to effectively counter rising violence by Islamic extremists.
Comments by a new junta spokesman earlier Saturday set into motion an outburst of anger in Ouagadougou, the capital.
Video on social media showed residents with lit torches outside the perimeter of the French embassy and other images showed part of the compound ablaze.
In Burkina Faso’s second-largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, angry crowds also vandalized the French institute.
France has denied any role in the events unfolding in its former colony, and warned its citizens to stay at home amid a “confusing” situation in Ouagadougou.
Damiba's whereabouts remained unknown but France’s Foreign Ministry issued a strongly worded statement: “We formally deny involvement in the events unfolding in Burkina Faso. The camp where the French forces are based has never hosted Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba nor has our embassy.”
Capt. Ibrahim Traore, who was named in charge after the Friday evening coup was announced on state television, said in his first interview that he and his men did not seek to harm Damiba.
Gunshots rang out early Saturday in Burkina Faso's capital amid signs of lingering tensions.
Roads remained blocked off in Ouagadougou, where a helicopter could be heard flying overhead. An internal security analysis for the European Union seen by The Associated Press said there was “abnormal military movement” in the city.
The African Union and the West African region bloc known as ECOWAS sharply criticized the developments.
“ECOWAS finds this new power grab inappropriate at a time when progress has been made,” the bloc said, citing the recent agreement Damiba had made to return to constitutional order by July 2024.
After taking power, Damiba made promises to end the Islamic extremist violence that has forced 2 million people to flee their homes in Burkina Faso. But a group of officers led by Capt. Ibrahim Traore said Friday that Damiba had failed and so was being removed as interim president.
The new junta leadership said it would commit “all fighting forces to refocus on the security issue and the restoration of the integrity of our territory.”
But it remains to be seen whether the junta can turn around the crisis. Concerns already were mounting Saturday, though, that the latest political volatility would further distract the military and allow the jihadis to strengthen their grip on growing swaths of the once peaceful country.