Anger simmers in Burkina town that kicked off protests

The town that kicked off unprecedented protests against Burkina Faso authorities two months ago is still angry, with allegations of impunity in the police, torture and cover-ups.

There are also complaints in Koudougou of the high cost of living — an issue that fuelled a separate days-long military mutiny this month launched from inside the guard of long-serving President Blaise Compaore.

“No crime by this regime has been punished,” student leader Francis Nikiema told AFP in the town 100 kilometres (60 miles) west of the capital.

The issue brought thousands of students into the streets on February 22 in the first of a wave of unprecedented protests against the government of Compaore, who has clung to the power he grabbed in a coup in 1987.

The students say police tortured and killed a school pupil, Justin Zongo, who died in custody, and demand punishment for those responsible.

“The authorities brandished the theory of meningitis,” said Nikiema, a history student at the University of Koudougou. “They lied. He died after police torture,” he insisted.

Security forces responded to the protests with “tear gas and live bullets”, said a regional representative of the Burkinabe Movement of Human Rights, Kisito Dakio.

More protests followed the next day, this time drawing in other youth and shopkeepers who suffered losses in the previous unrest.

After two days of violence, six people were dead in Koudougou and its surrounding areas, according to Dakio. Four were students who had been shot and a policeman was reportedly beaten to death.

The unrest spread to other towns, with police stations and public buildings burnt or attacked, and businesses looted.

Late last month, groups of soldiers began their own protests, including over the jailing of a handful of comrades for sex crimes, whom they later forcibly freed, angering lawyers and justice officials.

That crisis “resolved”, the troops started demonstrations for better pay and working conditions, going on the rampage in several towns across the country in a mutiny that began April 14 from Compaore’s presidential guard.

In Koudougou, there were new student-led demonstrations and this month the home of ex-prime minister Tertius Zongo was among government and ruling party buildings that were attacked.

“Whoever did that, they were not children,” said a member of Zongo’s circle at the charred premises, where heavy iron doors lay on the ground and paving stones had been ripped up.

Compaore tried to quell the unrest by firing Zongo and his government and several military chiefs, and ordering the payment of bonuses to soldiers.

This week he named himself defence minister and a new prime minister, former ambassador Luc Adolphe Tiao, took the helm of a new government.

But in Koudougou the anger remains and Nikiema said the students had not given up demands for “truth and justice, that those who ordered and carried out the torture of Justin Zongo be identified, tried and punished.”

“We are working to ensure that this is the last time that they kill us with no one ever being concerned about it in Burkina Faso,” he said, of the dead from February’s unrest.

The town is also marked by the 1998 assassination of journalist Norbert Zongo, who was from Koudougou, while investigating a murder that allegedly involved a brother of the president, Francois Compaore.

Other residents complain they are struggling to cope with rising costs in a destitute country where nearly one in two Burkinabe do not earn more than 1,000 CFA francs (1.52 euros) a day.

“Everything has become expensive,” said 20-year-old Miguano, who dropped out of school because he could not afford it and lives off odd building jobs.

“But in Burkina now, if you do not have connections, you will stay poor,” he said.

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