OUAGADOUGOU, Burkina Faso — A largely unknown military colonel emerged early Saturday to say he had taken the helm of Burkina Faso, hours after an army general had made a similar declaration following the ouster of the country’s president of 27 years.
Lt. Col. Issac Yacouba Zida said that the president’s resignation amid violent street protests was an “insurrection” and not a coup, and that former President Blaise Compaore and a top aide were both safe.
“Starting today I will assume all the responsibilities of this transition and of head of state,” he said in an announcement carried on radio early Saturday.
Zida was the second in command of the president’s security regiment. Having been in Burkina Faso’s ranks for more than two decades, Zida is close to the president and appreciated by lower ranking soldier.
Zida called on the international community including the African Union to “support our people during this difficult ordeal.” He had announced that the country’s borders had been closed, a transitional committee had been set up and the constitution had been suspended.
The swift departure of Compaore, who had first seized power after a 1987 coup and who later refashioned himself as a regional peace broker, left this impoverished West African country in a state of uncertainty.
Gen. Honore Traore, the joint chief of staff, told a packed room of reporters on Friday that he would assume the presidency until elections were called. It was not immediately clear if Traore accepted Zida’s announcement Saturday.
When Compaore resigned Friday after protesters stormed parliament and set the building ablaze. He said a vote would be held in 90 days. Zida said the “length and makeup of the transitional body will be decided later.”
Burkina Faso hosts French special forces and serves as an important ally of both France and the United States in the fight against Islamic militants in West Africa.
The United States called on Burkina Faso’s military to follow “the constitutionally mandated process for the transfer of power and holding of democratic elections.”
“We condemn any attempts by the military or other parties to take advantage of the situation for unconstitutional gain and call on all parties to respect the people’s support for the democratic process,” State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said.