Burkina braces for protests over move to extend leader's rule

Burkina Faso's then president Blaise Compaore speaks at the Presidential Palace in Ouagadougou on July 26, 2014 (AFP Photo/Sia Kambou)

Ouagadougou (AFP) - Burkina Faso on Monday braced for a week of sweeping protests linked to a controversial vote to allow the country's long-serving president to extend his rule beyond 30 years.

Schools and universities closed Monday for a week across the impoverished west African nation as incensed opposition members vowed to fight a proposal to amend the constitution to extend President Blaise Compaore's 27-year-rule.

The opposition has called for a day of protests on Tuesday against what it describes as a constitutional coup.

Hundreds of women got a jump on the opposition's plan by staging their own demonstration in the capital Ouagadougou on Monday, holding spatulas in their hands.

In Burkinabe society spatulas are considered very symbolic. If a woman raises her spatula towards a man as she's preparing the meal it is seen as an act of defiance.

"We don't want power for life," said Saran Sereme, a former pro-Compaore deputy turned opponent.

The National Assembly will on Thursday study the proposed constitutional amendment that would change extend the maximum term limit from two to three years and allow Campaore to run for re-election for another five-year term next year.

His bid to stay in power has angered the opposition and much of the public, including many young people in a country where 60 percent of some 17 million inhabitants are under 25.

Hundreds of protesters have erected barricades and burned tyres on the capital's streets since the proposal was announced on October 21.

Secondary school children deserted classes on Friday to join the protests, creating major disruptions in Ouagadougou.

Former foreign minister Ablasse Ouedraogo, who has now joined the opposition, has asked that the proposal be scrapped to prevent the country from "igniting".

And opposition leader Zephirin Diabre issued a thinly-veiled warning to lawmakers, saying they should "not forget that the people know them and are watching them both individually and collectively".

Civil society groups have also asked for the project to be dropped, saying the country risked being paralysed if the amendment went through.

On Wednesday, trade unions and civil society groups have called for mass protests to protest against skyrocketing prices.

And the opposition has called upon the public to blockade parliament on Thursday to prevent the review from taking place.

Compaore has been in power since he led a coup in 1987 and has been reelected president four times since 1991.