What is happening in Burkina Faso?

The military is preparing to launch an attack on coup leaders as presidential guards vow to retaliate

Burkina Faso
(Image credit: Sia Kambou/AFP/Getty Images)

Soldiers loyal to the ousted interim government in Burkina Faso have vowed to attack leaders of last week's coup after a deadline to surrender passed.

The small West African nation descended into chaos last week after the members of the presidential guard seized control of the country in a military coup launched ahead of the planned general election.

Loyalist troops have reached the capital Ouagadougou and are preparing to launch an attack on the group's military base after coup leader General Gilbert Diendéré failed to stand down, Al Jazeera reports.

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The military said it hoped the presidential guards would surrender "without bloodshed", but General Diendéré said his troops "will retaliate if attacked."

The stand-off comes as West African leaders hold an emergency meeting in the Nigerian capital Abuja to discuss a draft agreement to end the crisis.

The coup has been condemned by the United Nations, the African Union and former colonial power France and could have far reaching implications.

What happened?

Last week, presidential guards loyal to the former leader Blaise Compaore seized control of the country less than a year after Compaore was ousted in a popular uprising. They stormed a cabinet meeting and detained interim president Michel Kafando and prime minister Isaac Zida along with other officials. General Diendéré, who was a close ally to Compaore, took over as leader.

The coup came almost exactly a year after mass demonstrations forced Compaore out of power and into exile when he attempted to extend his 27-year rule. A transitional government was set up and Burkina Faso was hailed as one of the first examples of an emerging "African spring". But now the country "may be moving backwards," says Quartz Africa.

The military takeover sparked demonstrations in the capital Ouagadougou and at least ten people were killed when the army opened fire on protesters, Reuters reports. The interim leaders have since been released after mounting international pressure.

Why did the coup happen?

The coup – the sixth since the country gained independence as Upper Volta in 1960 – was in response to reforms being implemented by the transitional government that would prevent politicians loyal to Compaore from running in next month's elections. The reforms would have weakened the capacity of the military in Burkina Faso to control the political process, David Zounmenou, senior researcher at the South African Institute for Security Studies, told Al Jazeera.

Gabriel Leon, lecturer in political economy at King's College London agrees, arguing that that army clearly felt threatened by the unfolding democratic process. "What's happened is that you have a presidential guard that a year ago was very powerful, had a lot of perks and enjoyed a lot of benefits and they are now being threatened with disbandment," he said.

What impact will it have on the region?

It depends on how chaotic the situation becomes, says the BBC's Lamine Konkobo. "If the army and civil society mount a serious challenge to the junta and the officers refuse to back down then the situation could break down quickly."

Burkina Faso, a former French colony, is an important regional base for French special forces as well as an important US ally in the fight against groups affiliated with Islamic State in West Africa, and a change in leadership could easily threaten that. There are also concerns that jihadist groups operating in neighbouring Mali and the wider region could take advantage of the political crisis to develop a new base in the north of the country, says Konkobo.

French president Francois Hollande has condemned the takeover, calling upon the coup participants to lay down their weapons and hand power back to the legitimate authorities immediately "or assume all of the consequences".

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