Gunfire, blast jolt Burkina Faso capital, soldiers on streets

Soldiers are on the streets and heavy gunfire has been heard near the main military camp and residential areas of Burkina Faso’s capital.


A large blast also rang out on Friday near the presidential palace where soldiers took up positions.


Soldiers were seen along the main avenue leading to the presidential palace, administrative buildings and the national television station, which stopped broadcasting. Journalists said state television instead showed a blank screen saying “no video signal”.


Several main roads in Ouagadougou were blocked by troops. A spokesman for the military government that seized power in January was unreachable.


It was not clear yet if this was a coup attempt, but it bore the hallmarks of other power grabs that have swept across West and Central Africa over the past two years.


No public announcement about the motivation behind the troop movements in Ouagadougou was given.


Ornella Moderan, a Sahel security analyst, said a lot of rumours were flowing on social media amid the confusion of what is happening.


“There has been mounting tensions among the society and the military, but it’s way too early to tell what is going on,” Moderan told Al Jazeera. “The situation is extremely complex. Burkina Faso is not confronting a security situation on its own, it’s affecting the whole region.”


Reporting from Saint Louis in Senegal in West Africa, Al Jazeera’s Nicolas Haque said there was a sense of panic across the capital.


“All the streets leading to the presidential palace, the parliament, and the constitutional court are being manned by soldiers. People who have tried to approach these areas have been told to return and move away,” he said.


Violence has raged in Burkina Faso since Lieutenant Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba seized power in a coup in January, toppling the West African country’s elected leader.


“Late at night, around 3am, gunfire erupted in the capital as the president of transition, who took over in January, was in the presidential palace. There is no word about him nor his whereabouts,” said Haque.


“There is a lot of confusion about who is in charge and who is behind what we are seeing in Ouagadougou.”


In his first statement after the January coup, Damiba, often seen in public in military fatigues and aviator sunglasses, pledged to restore security.


More than 40 percent of Burkina Faso, a former French colony, is now outside government control. In recent years, violence by armed groups has spilled over into the Ivory Coast and Togo.


The military takeover was largely celebrated by civilians fed up with former President Roch Kabore’s civilian government that was unable to rein in fighters who have killed thousands of civilians in recent years and taken over large parts of the north and east.


But attacks in the impoverished West African country have worsened and the army is in disarray. The rank and file, which gave Damiba their support in January, have grown frustrated at the lack of progress, security sources say