Burkina Faso's army backs Zida as interim leader

Burkina Faso's army on Saturday backed a military officer's claim to lead the country's transition to democratic elections, as the ousted president Blaise Compaore took refuge in neighbouring Ivory Coast.

Ouagadougou: Burkina Faso's army on Saturday backed a military officer's claim to lead the country's transition to democratic elections, as the ousted president Blaise Compaore took refuge in neighbouring Ivory Coast.

Compaore resigned yesterday after unrest over plans to extend his 27-year rule exploded into violence that saw parliament set ablaze, in protests closely watched across a continent where other veteran heads of state are also trying to cling to power.

The leader of a group of young army officers, Isaac Zida, had declared himself in interim charge of the landlocked west African nation -- dismissing a rival claim by the army chief -- and on Saturday the military threw its weight behind him.

"Lieutenant-Colonel Isaac Zida was chosen unanimously to lead the transition period opened after the departure of president Compaore," said a statement published after a meeting of army chiefs.

The text was signed by General Navere Honore Traore, who initially said he would himself assume power, a claim Zida had dismissed as "obsolete".

Zida, the second in command of the presidential guard, said yesterday he had assumed "the responsibilities of head of the transition and of head of state" to ensure a "smooth democratic transition".

"The aspirations for democratic change" of the Burkina youth "will be neither betrayed, nor disappointed", he said.

Speaking on television early Saturday, Zida said the ousted president was "in a safe place" and his "safety and well-being are assured".

In neighbouring Ivory Coast the presidency confirmed reports that Compaore, who left Ouagadougou on Friday according to French diplomatic sources, was in the country.

A local resident said he saw a cortege of around 30 cars heading for a luxury hotel in the Ivorian capital, which is also used as a semi-official residence for foreign dignitaries.

"The services of the President hotel in Yamoussoukro served him (Compaore) dinner yesterday (Friday) and breakfast this morning (Saturday)," according to a hotel employee.

In Burkina, calm returned to the streets of the capital, with shops reopening and calls by protest organisers for a clean-up of the debris left behind after violent mass protests.

The uprising, which has drawn parallels with the Arab Spring, was sparked by plans to change the constitution to allow Compaore to stand once again for elections next year.