By Uganda Online Media Correspondent
Burkina Faso’s military government said it has restored the constitution a week after taking power and has appointed the coup’s leader as head of state for a transitional period.
The move came shortly after the African Union (AU) suspended Burkina Faso for the takeover and diplomats from West Africa and the United Nations pressed demands for a return to civilian rule.
In a statement read on television on Monday, the military government announced it had approved a “fundamental act” that “lifts the suspension of the constitution”, a move that had been declared after the January 24 coup.
The 37-article document guarantees independence of the judiciary and presumption of innocence, as well as basic liberties spelled out in the constitution such as freedom of movement and freedom of speech, according to the statement.
Under the “fundamental act”, it said, the military government – officially named the Patriotic Movement for Preservation and Restoration (MPSR) “ensures the continuity of the state pending the establishment of transitional bodies”.
The statement did not give a timeline for the transition period.
It formally identified coup leader Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba as president of the MPSR.
This role also encompasses “president of Burkina Faso, head of state (and) supreme leader of the armed forces”, the statement said.
The MPSR has two vice presidents, the statement added, but it did not mention any names.
A separate decree read on television said that the armed forces chief of staff, Gilbert Ouedraogo, was leaving the job.
Just hours earlier, the AU’s 15-member Peace and Security Council said on Twitter that it had voted “to suspend the participation of #BurkinaFaso in all AU activities until the effective restoration of constitutional order in the country”.
On Friday, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) also suspended Burkina Faso from its ranks and warned of possible sanctions pending the outcome of meetings with the military government.
An ECOWAS mission headed by Ghanaian Foreign Minister Shirley Ayorkor Botchway arrived in Ouagadougou, where it was joined by the UN’s special representative for West Africa and the Sahel (UNOWAS), Annadif Khatir Mahamat Saleh.
The discussions were “very frank”, according to Botchway. “They seemed very open to the suggestions and proposals that we made. For us it’s a good sign,” she told reporters after meeting with Damiba and other junta members.
The Ghanaian Foreign Minister added that although Burkina Faso has been suspended, ECOWAS will not sever all ties.
“We will not leave Burkina Faso on its own, we will continue to work [together] to fight this menace of terrorism and armed conflict,” she said.
The delegation also visited ousted President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, who is under house arrest, a delegate said.
Botchway said she had met with Kabore and that he was well and “in good spirits”, Reuters news agency reported.
His wellbeing and demands for his release have been major issues since the coup.
ECOWAS sent military chiefs to confer with Damiba on Saturday.
Leaders from the bloc will hold a summit in Accra on Thursday to assess its two missions to see whether they should impose sanctions.
They have previously suspended and enforced sanctions against two other members – Mali and Guinea – which have also seen military overthrows in the past 18 months.
The United States expressed support Monday evening for ECOWAS’s actions and called for Kabore’s release.
“We share the concerns African leaders articulated regarding the actions of military officials in Burkina Faso,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.
“While some elements of the constitution may have been restored, extraconstitutional seizures of power erode the legitimacy of governance.”
On January 24, defiant soldiers detained Kabore amid rising public anger at his failure to stem violence by armed groups ravaging the impoverished nation.
They later released a handwritten letter in which he announced his resignation – a document that a member of his party said was authentic.
The coup is the latest bout of turmoil to strike Burkina Faso, a landlocked state that has suffered chronic instability since gaining independence from France in 1960.