Burkina opposition in mass rally against extending president`s mandate

Tens of thousands of people Saturday answered a call by Burkina Faso`s opposition to protest against any move by President Blaise Compaore to get a fifth term in office.

AFP| Last Updated: Jun 01, 2014, 01:36 AM IST

Ouagadougou: Tens of thousands of people Saturday answered a call by Burkina Faso`s opposition to protest against any move by President Blaise Compaore to get a fifth term in office.

Crowds poured into the largest stadium in Ouagadougou, filling it to its 35,000 capacity, voicing their anger against any move by the 63-year-old to extend his decades-long hold on power in the landlocked nation.

Compaore, an often controversial titan of west African politics, has hinted he may seek a referendum to extend his 26-year reign in 2015 polls, despite a two-term constitutional limit.

But shouts of "No to the referendum" and "We are tired, the big baobab must fall" -- in reference to the species of large African tree that can live for centuries -- echoed around the arena.
"It`s a historic mobilisation... The stadium is full from top to bottom," said opposition leader Zephirin Diabre.

People have "turned out en masse" to show that "from now on, change is no longer a dream. Change is here and now," said Benewende Sankara, president of the Union for Rebirth/Sankarist Movement party, one of 30 opposition parties at the rally.

Anger has been growing against a planned vote on whether to modify Burkina Faso`s constitution, which limits the president to a maximum of two five-year terms in office and which would have prevented Compaore from extending his 26-year reign.

Compaore was only 36 when he seized power in an October 1987 coup in which his former friend and one of Africa`s most loved leaders, Thomas Sankara, was ousted and assassinated.
Compaore hinted he may seek to extend his reign in December after the end of his second five-year term.

He had already completed two seven-year terms, ending in 2005 before constitutional limits were introduced.

Like the opposition, the president has also been mobilising his supporters.

Observers say the opposition to any attempt by Compaore to cling to power is driven by the youth in a country where 60 percent of the 17 million-strong population is under 25.

This means they have spent their entire lives under the leadership of one man and -- with the poor former French colony stagnating at around 183rd out of 186 countries on the UN human development index -- many have had enough.

"I have come to say with force: no to the referendum, whose only objective is to satisfy a life-long thirst for power," Issiaka Ouedraogo, 28, told AFP.

Sere Tiendrebeogo, 25, agreed, saying: "No to a coup that will fix his power through this referendum. Because changing a constitution unilaterally and for personal gain is simply a coup."