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Burkina army mutiny: Government plays down talk of coup

Sustained gunfire has rung out from several military camps in Burkina Faso following a demand by mutinying soldiers for more government support for their fight against Islamist militants.

Reuters has reported government ministers calling for calm, and denying speculation on social media that the army had, in the early hours of Sunday, seized power or detained President Roch Kabore.

Heavy gunfire was first heard at the capital Ouagadougou’s Sangoule Lamizana camp, which houses a prison whose inmates include soldiers involved in a failed 2015 coup attempt, as early as 5:00AM, local time.

Hundreds of people came out into the streets in support of the mutineers. Outside the Lamizana camp, a crowd of about 100 sang the national anthem and

chanted “Free the country!”

The soldiers responded to each chant by firing into the air. It was not clear if this was meant to show support for the demonstrators or to disperse them.

In downtown Ouagadougou, near the Place de la Nation, police fired teargas to disperse around 300 protesters.

Soldiers also fired into the air at an air base close to Ouagadougou International Airport, according to the US embassy.

The embassy also reported gunfire at three other military bases in Ouagadougou and at bases in the northern towns of Kaya and Ouahigouya.

A recent Reuters report says frustration has been rising in Burkina Faso over the government’s handling of an insurgency by militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State.

The deaths of 49 military police in a militant attack in November prompted violent street  protests calling for President Kabore to step down.

Speaking to reporters in front of the Lamizana camp, one of the mutineers issued a series of demands, including the resignations of the army chief of staff and the head of the intelligence service.

He also called for better welfare for wounded soldiers and their families, and “appropriate” resources and training for the army, which has suffered heavy losses at the hands of the militants.

Burkina Faso’s government confirmed gunfire at some military camps but denied reports on social media that the army had seized power.

Speaking on national television later on Sunday, Defence Minister General Bathelemy Simpore said the reasons for the gunfire were still unclear, and that the president had not been arrested by the mutineers.