Career diplomat to be sworn in as Burkina's interim leader

Ouagadougou (AFP) - Career diplomat Michel Kafando will be sworn in Tuesday as Burkina Faso's interim president to steer the west African nation during a one-year transition back to civilian rule following the toppling of its veteran leader.

The appointment of the former foreign minister and UN ambassador on Monday ended weeks of uncertainty after violent protests late last month brought down the 27-year regime of president Blaise Compaore and the military seized power.

Kafando will be sworn in on Tuesday and is expected to take over power from the army-installed leader, Lieutenant-Colonel Isaac Zida, on Friday, a military source said.

"It is an awesome responsibility that falls to me, I already foresee the pitfalls and the immensity of the task," the 72-year-old Kafando told reporters.

Under the transition deal, he will be barred from standing in elections scheduled for next year.

His appointment came ahead of a deadline imposed by the African Union, which had warned the impoverished country would face sanctions unless it chose an interim leader by Monday.

African Union chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma welcomed Kafando's appointment and praised the people of Burkina Faso "for their political maturity and sense of responsibility", and called for "a smooth transition under the direction of civil authorities".

Kafando served as ambassador to the United Nations from 1998 to 2011. He was also Burkina Faso's foreign minister in 1982-1983.

- 'Will of the people' -

Ghana's President John Dramani Mahama, chairman of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), said the appointment and the resolve to return to democracy demonstrated the will of the people and the military "to focus on the best interests of the nation".

Yet the decision to hand power to a man closely associated with the former regime raised suspicions for many.

"Compaore said for 27 years that he was not thirsty for power, yet he remained firmly in his job," said Amadou Sawadogo, a 37-year-old street seller.

Kafando was chosen by a panel of 23 officials, mainly civilians, over candidates who included journalist Cherif Sy and sociologist and ex-minister Josephine Ouedraogo.

Initially Paul Ouedraogo, the Catholic archbishop of the southern Bobo-Dioulasso diocese, appeared to be a frontrunner despite his reluctance, but the Church said he was not in the race.

- Transition charter -

Kafando's appointment came after the military on Saturday reinstated the constitution that it suspended when it took over following Compaore's ousting.

On Sunday the military officially signed a "transition charter" -- effectively an interim constitution hammered out between the military and civilian, opposition and religious figures last week.

Applause erupted after Zida initialled the document which marked his acceptance of a return to civilian leadership in the country of almost 17 million people.

Under the deal, the president will appoint a prime minister, either a civilian or a military figure, who will head a 25-member transitional government.

A civilian will also head a 90-seat parliament, known as the National Transitional Council.

According to a draft of the blueprint, no members of the interim regime will be allowed to stand in the November 2015 election.

Mass unrest erupted in late October over Compaore's bid to change the constitution, which would have allowed him to extend his rule of the landlocked former French colony.

Protesters set the parliament building ablaze and attacked other official premises in the capital and other cities in violence not seen since a wave of army mutinies in 2011.

Compaore was only 36 when he seized power in a 1987 coup in which his former friend and one of Africa's most loved leaders, Thomas Sankara, was ousted and assassinated.

He held on to power in the following decades, being re-elected president four times since 1991.

His foiled attempt to extend his rule had been closely watched across Africa, where at least four heads of state are considering similar changes to stay in power, from Burundi to Benin and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Compaore has taken refuge in neighbouring Ivory Coast where he is living in a luxury villa.

Known in colonial times as Upper Volta, the country won independence from France in 1960 and its name was changed to Burkina Faso -- "the land of upright men" -- in 1984.