Burkina Faso’s leader, Capt. Thomas Sankara, was overthrown Thursday in a coup led by his childhood friend and second-in-command, Capt. Blaise Compaore, radio reports and witnesses said.
Officials at the U.S. Embassy in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, said gunfire erupted in the city about 4 p.m. and continued sporadically until nightfall. Other witnesses in the capital said an undetermined number of people apparently were killed in an attack on Sankara’s residence.
Radio Ouagadougou announced that Compaore, deputy leader and justice minister before the coup, has seized power “to put an end . . . to the autocratic regime of Thomas Sankara, to stop the process of neocolonial restoration under way by this traitor of the revolution.”
The radio announcement, monitored in Abidjan, was preceded by several hours of military music. It said Sankara, 37, was arrested and that the ruling left-wing body, the National Revolution Council, had been dissolved.
The radio broadcaster, who said he was speaking on behalf of the Popular Front, announced a dusk-to-dawn curfew and said the country’s borders have been closed. Communications were still open to the country of 7 million people.
It was the fourth coup since 1980 in the landlocked West African nation and the fifth since the country, one of the poorest in the world, gained independence from France in 1960. It was known then as Upper Volta.
The radio broadcaster said the coup against Sankara, a left-wing leader with close ties to Libyan leader Moammar Kadafi, was carried out “to stop the degeneration of our revolutionary process and give hope back to our people and our country.”
“The government is dissolved. The military revolutionary organization is dissolved,” he said.
The radio accused Sankara, 37, of “personalization of power,” “treason against the revolution” and “causing social decadence and total chaos in the society.”
Friends Since Childhood
Compaore and Sankara, friends since childhood, attended French military academies together. As Sankara’s chief aide, Compaore traveled extensively in the Communist world, including visits to the Soviet Union and North Korea in 1984. He is considered further left than Sankara.
Compaore, Sankara and two other soldiers, Maj. Jean-Baptiste Lingani and Capt. Henri Zongo, formed the inner core of the military group that led the 1983 coup that brought Sankara to power.
Sankara was prime minister for the first five months of 1983. He was arrested and charged with threatening national unity, and three months later his commando unit rebelled. Sankara was freed and immediately seized power.
He renamed the country Burkina Faso, which means “the country of upright men” in the local dialect. The nation is in the drought-ridden Sahel region of West Africa and is slightly larger than Colorado.
Throughout his regime, Sankara has preached absolute public incorruptibility, an end to factional politics and hard work. For example, Sankara sold off the government Mercedes fleet after he came to power and all officials, including the president, had to open their bank statements and a list of possessions to a public tribunal for examination.