Angry protesters attacked the French Embassy in Burkina Faso’s capital Saturday after supporters of the West African nation’s new coup leader accused France of harboring the ousted interim president, a charge French authorities vehemently denied.
A group of soldiers appearing on state television late Friday had announced that Lt. Col. Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba had been overthrown less than nine months after he’d mounted a coup himself in Burkina Faso.
While his whereabouts remained unknown late Saturday, a new statement attributed to Damiba was posted on the Burkina Faso presidency’s Facebook page directed at the newly declared leader, Capt. Ibrahim Traore.
“I call on Captain Traoré and company to come to their senses to avoid a fratricidal war that Burkina Faso does not need,” said the statement attributed to Damiba, who unlike other ousted West African leaders has yet to tender a resignation.
Earlier Saturday, comments by a junta spokesman had set into motion an outburst of anger in Ouagadougou, the capital.
“Damiba has tried to retreat to the Kamboinsin French military base to prepare a counteroffensive in order to sow divide amongst our defense and security forces,” said Lt. Jean Baptiste Kabre, reading a statement on behalf of the new junta leadership.
Video on social media showed residents with lit torches outside the perimeter of the French embassy and other images showed part of the compound ablaze.
In Burkina Faso’s second-largest city, Bobo-Dioulasso, angry crowds also vandalized the French institute.
France has denied any role in the events unfolding in its former colony, and warned its citizens to stay at home amid a “confusing” situation in Ouagadougou.
“We condemn in the strongest terms the violence against our diplomatic presence in Burkina Faso,” the French Foreign Ministry said in a statement late Saturday. “Any attack on our diplomatic facilities is unacceptable.”
In an earlier statement Saturday, the ministry said that “the camp where the French forces are based has never hosted Paul Henri Sandaogo Damiba nor has our embassy.”
Traore, the 34-year-old army captain who was named in charge after the Friday evening coup was announced on state television, said in interviews Saturday that he and his men did not seek to harm Damiba.
“If we wanted, we would take him within five minutes of fighting and maybe he would be dead, the president. But we don’t want this catastrophe,” Traore told the Voice of America. “We don’t want to harm him, because we don’t have any personal problem with him. We’re fighting for Burkina Faso.”
He later told Radio Omega: “We have no intention to bring Damiba to justice. We only wish that he would go rest because he is tired, and as for us we are going to continue to do the work.”
As uncertainty prevailed, the international community widely condemned the ouster of Damiba, who himself overthrew the country’s democratically elected president in January.
U.S. State Department spokesman Ned Price said Saturday that the United States “is deeply concerned by events in Burkina Faso.”