Blaise Compaore: a putschist turned west African heavyweight

Ouagadougou (AFP) - Blaise Compaore, the long-serving president of Burkina Faso, took power in a coup in 1987 but quickly swapped the "democratic revolution's" Marxist ideals for authoritarian rule.

The 63-year-old has since been re-elected four times since 1991, often with dubious percentages of the vote.

He now faces fresh protests by opposition forces over plans to extend his rule to beyond three decades.

Born on February 3, 1951 in Ouagadougou, Compaore is a member of the west African country's dominant Mossi tribe.

He was a young captain when he backed the first of three coups that brought him to power.

The first was led by Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo, who was replaced a year later by captain Thomas Sankara, a childhood friend of Compaore.

Sankara was killed in the third coup, which left Compaore in charge.

He quickly launched a "rectification" of Sankara's "democratic, popular revolution" that included the execution of two other comrades in arms accused of plotting yet another coup.

Compaore then worked on establishing democratic institutions in the poor west African nation, and was elected president in 1991, though the vote was marked by an opposition boycott.

- Clinging to power -

Three more elections followed in 1998, 2005 and 2010, and the sitting president notched up scores of more than 80 percent in each.

With his uniform hung away, "handsome Blaise" as he is known to compatriots worked on improving his image abroad and renewing ties with France, the former colonial power.

A United Nations probe nonetheless identified Compaore as a regional actor in arms and diamond trafficking that benefitted rebels in Angola and Sierra Leone.

Close relations with former Libyan dictator Moamer Kadhafi and his Liberian counterpart Charles Taylor also gave Compaore the reputation of a west African troublemaker.

One country where he is particularly influential is neighbouring Ivory Coast, home to at least three million Burkinabe.

After being accused of undermining that nation amidst a 2002 rebellion, Compaore emerged as a key "mediator" to an Ivory Coast peace accord five years later.

An attempt to play the same role in 2010 stirred violent opposition however and Compaore was prevented from travelling to Abidjan.

He has also mediated crises in numerous west African countries, including Guinea, Mali and Togo.

At home, Compaore has since angered much of the public, including many young people in a country where 60 percent of some 17 million inhabitants are under 25.

On December 13, 1998, the bodies of journalist Norbert Zongo and three others were found in a burned vehicle as he was investigating a murder that might have had links to Compaore's brother Francois.

Three members of the presidential guard were convicted in connection with the killing, but details of how it occurred remain unclear.

Schools and universities have now closed to protest a draft law before the National Assembly that would change extend the maximum presidential term limit from two to three years and allow Campaore to run for re-election for another five-year term next year.