Burkina Faso celebrates end to coup, demands democracy

Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso) (AFP) - People rejoiced in Burkina Faso's capital Thursday, a day after the military restored power to a civilian regime, but uncertainty hung over the fate of the elite presidential guard that staged last week's coup.

Early signs of a return to normal in Ouagadougou after the week-long crisis included the reopening of banks and service stations, though Thursday was a public holiday.

Several thousand residents gathered in the city's municipal stadium for prayers on the Muslim Feast of the Sacrifice, marking Abraham's readiness to sacrifice his son to God.

People were also celebrating the return to barracks of the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP), which on September 16 detained interim president Michel Kafando and prime minister Isaac Zida, then announced a coup the following day.

Adama Sawadogo, a man in his 50s dressed in flowing white robes for the prayers, voiced confidence in the future of the country, where mass protests in December toppled unpopular president Blaise Compaore after 27 years in power.

"It's the people who decide. They did not want to go backwards. We want democracy," Sawadogo said. "And now, everything will go back to normal if God wills it."

"When Blaise Compaore took power, I was seven years old. Today, I'm a father. Compaore ruled over my father, he ruled over me, he's not going to rule over my son," declared Moussa Sawadogo, a driving school instructor.

"We're confident. (Coups d'etat) are a practice from another time. The people are young but we have a conscience," Sawadogo added.

Because of the public holiday, Kafando, who took up his post anew on Wednesday by declaring a "main objective" of organising free and fair elections, postponed the first post-coup cabinet meeting until Friday morning.

Kafando was reinstated to standing ovations at a ceremony attended by other African leaders, along with Zida -- a former deputy commander of the RSP -- his government and members of the transitional parliament.

After meeting heads of state in the regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) who helped mediate a way out of the crisis, coup leader General Gilbert Diendere surprised journalists and onlookers by bluntly confessing that the coup "was the biggest mistake".

- 'Restraint and respect' -

"The people were not in favour of it," added Diendere, a former Compaore chief of staff.

Diendere acknowledged that people had been killed during the coup and declared himself fully responsible for the consequences. At least 10 people lost their lives, with more than 110 wounded, according to medical sources.

Zida on Wednesday announced that there would be a delay of several weeks before elections could be held. During mediation, ECOWAS was pushing for the polls to take place well before the end of November.

Transitional authorities must in the meantime tackle other crucial issues to shore up the stability of the deeply poor, landlocked nation of 17 million people lying south of the Sahara.

The presidential guard, a kind of "army within the army" that long took orders directly from Compaore himself, has already caused trouble several times during the transition.

Many people have made repeated calls for the disbanding of the RSP, including two of the main presidential candidates in the next election, Roch Marc Christian Kabore and Benewende Sankara.

The elite forces remained confined to their camp on Thursday, as Diendere promised. He also agreed that they should be disarmed, but that has yet to be done.

Regular army soldiers who had marched on the capital earlier this week, decisively affecting the balance of military power, were still based in some military camps in Ouagadougou, several sources said.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon welcomed the resumption of a political process Thursday, but "called on all national stakeholders to exercise restraint and to ensure respect for the physical integrity and human rights of all Burkinabe citizens".

The fate of the coup leaders is a thorny problem. They wanted an amnesty when the tide turned against them, which was accepted in an ECOWAS draft deal, but a large part of the population and many political leaders do not the bloodshed to go unpunished.

The main demand of the putschists is still being hotly debated. They wanted the transitional authorities to lift a ban on Compaore's former allies and supporters in the elections, a matter mediators have left in Burkinabe hands.