AFRICANGLOBE – Police have dispersed protesters in Burkina Faso as tensions increase ahead of a vote this week on whether the country’s longtime dictator can seek another term. Blaise Compaore has been in power since 1987 when he murdered Thomas Sankara.
Thousands chanted “27 years is enough” in Ouagadougou Tuesday, hoping to keep parliament from allowing Compaore to seek another term. Under a 2005 constitutional amendment, the president cannot run again once his current term expires next year, but officials announced on October 21 that the National Assembly could seek to change that.
“It’s make or break time: the nation or death,” opposition leader Zephirin Diabre said Tuesday, adding that “this is our final warning for Blaise Compaore to withdraw” a draft constitutional amendment to increase term limits on which the National Assembly will vote Thursday.
If the measure passes with a simple majority, voters will ultimately decide with a referendum, but, if it passes with a three-quarters majority, the parliament can amend the constitution without a public ballot. The measure looks likely to pass after a smaller party threw its support behind the ruling Congress for Democracy and Progress this weekend.
Compaore seized power in a 1987 coup and has won re-election four times since 1991: twice to seven-year spans, twice to five years. The opposition fears the new rules would enable Compaore to seek re-election not just once, but three more times – paving the way for up to 15 more years in power.
‘Blaise, Get Out!’
Early on Tuesday, gendarmes fired tear gas at dozens of youths barricading the country’s main highway, who hurled stones in response, the news agency AFP reported. Hundreds of thousands of people later set off from the capital’s Nation square, blowing whistles and vuvuzela trumpets, before further violence broke out, with police firing tear gas to disperse protesters in Ouagadougou. Demonstrators rallied nationwide; no injuries were reported.
The opposition figures Benewende Sankara and Ablasse Ouedraogo claimed a million-strong turnout, well above a previous rally in August. However, more conservative reports put attendance in the tens of thousands, with protesters carrying banners reading “Blaise, Get Out!” or “Don’t Touch Article 37,” in reference to the constitutional term limit that the National Assembly may scrap to let the president seek re-election.
Opposition leaders have vowed to prevent parliamentarians from getting to the chamber on Thursday. With 60 percent of the population younger than 25, most people in Burkina Faso have lived their entire lives under Compaore’s rule.