World

Burkina Faso army mutiny widens

A mutiny by soldiers spreads to two more towns, and a student protest turns incendiary in Burkina Faso, one of West Africa's poorest countries.

The West African country of Burkina Faso simmered Monday as a mutiny by soldiers spread to two more towns and a student protest turned incendiary.

Troops in the northern town of Kaya took to the streets Sunday night and fired their guns into the air until early Monday morning, residents said. 

"There was a panic in town and we have closed classes as a precaution measure," said Anatole Kiema, a teacher at a grammar school in the town of Kaya.

A resident in Tenkodogo, a town east of the capital, also said soldiers shot into the air for hours Sunday night before returning to their barracks. He said they also stole cellphones and went to bars where they demanded free drinks.

Timeline of turmoil

Feb. 22, 2011: Tumultuous protests leading to six deaths break out in the western town of Koudougou after a young man, Justin Zongo, perishes in custody. His friends and parents say he was a victim of police brutality; but authorities say he had meningitis.

March 22: Troops from several army bases seize guns, fire in the air and loot stores to denounce the prosecution of fellow soldiers on rape and other charges.

April 4: President Blaise Compaoré meets with student protest leaders after reopening universities and schools at the end of March. The government had closed many of them amid the unrest.

April 8: Tens of thousands of people — from unions, consumer groups, human-rights organizations and small businesses — hold anti-government rallies in the capital, Ouagadougou, and other cities.

April 11: Court workers go back on the job after a three-week strike to demand better workplace security following attacks on courthouses by rampaging soldiers.

April 14: An army mutiny breaks out in Ouagadougou, leading to gunfire at President Compaoré's compound and days of looting.

April 15: The mutiny spreads within Ouagadougou, but soldiers in the presidential guard call off their protest after they receive the bonuses they were demanding. Compaoré dissolves his government and names a new army chief.

April 16: Soldiers from several Ouagadoudou garrisons take to the streets, firing in the air and looting businesses. Shop owners set fire to public buildings to protest the looting. The government imposes a curfew. That night, the soldiers' mutiny spreads to the southern town of Po.

April 17: The mutiny hits Tenkodogo, where soldiers fire their guns in the air, steal cellphones and demand free drinks in bars.

April 18: The northern town of Kaya sees soldiers firing their weapons into the early hours of the morning, causing "panic," according to a schoolteacher.

The soldiers' uprising started Thursday in the capital, Ouagadougou, to denounce the fact that they haven't been paid their full salaries for the month of March, a military official said. The demonstrations saw gunfire at the compound of President Blaise Compaoré and led to days of looting.

That incident prompted Compaoré to announce he was dissolving his government and naming a new army chief and a new head of presidential security.

A government statement Friday said that the problem was being "sorted out," and expressed its regrets for any suffering during the protests. The security minister also instituted a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the capital on Saturday.

The mutiny spread Sunday to the southern town of Po, which hosts a training centre for senior officers and their commandos, but the town was calm Monday.

Fiery student rally

In recent months, Burkina Faso has seen several episodes of unrest. On April 8, people took to the streets of Ouagadougou to protest soaring prices of basic foods.

In March, students torched government buildings in several cities to protest the death of a young man, Justin Zongo, in custody the month before. The government said he had meningitis, but accusations of mistreatment have fuelled deadly protests, killing at least six others.

Those demonstrations were rekindled Monday in the western town of Koudougou, where a student protest that began peacefully resulted in people torching the ruling party's local headquarters and the home of a former prime minister, witnesses told the Agence France-Presse news agency.

The demonstrators demanded "the truth and justice for Justin Zongo and for all the victims of repression," according to a statement sent to AFP.

President Compaoré, who seized power in a bloody coup 23 years ago, was re-elected by a landslide in a November vote rejected by the opposition as being rigged. The former army captain took power in 1987 in the small West African nation after the former leader was gunned down in his office.

Burkina Faso is near the bottom of the United Nations' human development index — which measures general well-being — ranking 161 out of 169 countries. It has high rates of unemployment and illiteracy, and most people get by on subsistence agriculture.

With files from The Associated Press