African Union issues Burkina Faso ultimatum

The African Union (AU) has given Burkina Faso's military leadership two weeks to return the west African state to civilian rule or face sanctions if they fail to comply. "We ask the armed forces to transfer power to the civil authorities, and the council has determined a period of two weeks for the transfer," Simeon Oyono Esono, head of the AU's Peace and Security Council, said on Monday following a meeting in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa. "The African Union is convinced that the change has been against democracy. However, we know that popular pressure led to the resignation of the president. "Those circumstances were taken by the armed forces to get into power, but it originated from the people," Esono said. The army stepped into a power vacuum after Blaise Compaore was forced to resign the presidency last week in the wake of violent demonstrations over an attempt to extend his 27-year-rule. In an emergency meeting with diplomats in the Burkina Faso capital Ouagadougou earlier on Monday, interim leader Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida vowed the military would cede power to a transition government, without giving a timeframe for the changeover. "Our understanding is that the executive powers will be led by a transitional body but within a constitutional framework that we will watch over carefully," Zida said. The political opposition and civil society organisations insist that the victory of the popular uprising belongs to the people. Jean-Hubert Bazie, opposition spokesman Naming Zida as leader on Saturday, the military had said it was acting in the interests of the nation and that "power does not interest us". But its takeover has also sparked angry protests. Zida also held meetings with French, American and EU diplomats, who also urged him to hand power back to civilian leaders. Senior opposition figures also met with their leader Zephirin Diabre. Al Jazeera's Haru Mutasa, reporting from Ouagadougou, said that as of Monday afternoon the streets in the capital have calmed down after days of protests. But she said that civilians are eager to see the transition haapen as quickly as possible. Meanwhile, the opposition has raised fears that the military would expand its powers. "The political opposition and civil society organisations insist that the victory of the popular uprising belongs to the people and therefore the transition government legitimately falls to them and should under no circumstances be confiscated by the military," Jean-Hubert Bazie, a spokesman for the opposition parties, told Al Jazeera. Shots fired The army on Sunday launched a sharp crackdown when several thousand protesters gathered at a rally against the military takeover in the city's central square. Some protesters had headed to the national television station headquarters where two opposition leaders made separate attempts to go on air to declare themselves interim leader. Former defence minister Kouame Lougue, whose name was chanted by thousands in the streets following Compaore's downfall, told the AFP news agency: "The people have nominated me. I came to answer their call." But the TV technicians walked out, interrupting transmission and also foiling a bid by Saran Sereme, a former member of the ruling party, to make her claim as leader. One person was killed close to the television headquarters where soldiers fired shots in the air to disperse protesters. The army said the victim was likely struck by a stray bullet. Similar to the AU, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, the UN envoy for West Africa, issued a warning that if the army refuses to transfer power "the consequences are pretty clear". "We want to avoid having to impose sanctions on Burkina Faso," he said.

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