Burkina Faso's Damiba calls for 'unity' against jihadists
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The head of Burkina Faso's ruling junta Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, speaking alongside ex-president Blaise Compaore, on Friday called for "social cohesion" to face jihadist violence plaguing the nation.
Damiba, who took power in a coup in January, made his appeal after inviting former leaders to attend a summit to "accelerate national reconciliation" and attempt to curb jihadist attacks that have rocked Burkina Faso since 2015.
But only two ex-leaders attended: Jean-Baptiste Ouedraogo, who was in office from 1982 to 1983, and Compaore, who served as president for 27 years until he was forced into exile in Ivory Coast following a popular uprising in 2014.
Compaore's return home on Thursday for the first time in eight years to attend the summit has drawn widespread criticism.
Many have called for his arrest after he was sentenced in absentia to life in prison in April for his role in the assassination of his predecessor Thomas Sankara, a pan-African icon, during the coup that brought him to power in 1987.
Damiba said Friday's meeting focused mostly on "the quest for lasting peace in our country".
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"It is only in social cohesion and unity that the forces fighting terrorism at this very moment will be even more determined and successful," he added, with Compaore standing beside him.
"The urgency of preserving the existence of our homeland requires a synergy of actions that does not allow us to give ourselves the luxury of wasting any time in arguments," Damiba said.
Since 2015, Burkina Faso has been caught up in an escalating wave of violence attributed to jihadists allied to both al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.
The violence has claimed more than 2,000 lives and forced 1.9 million people to flee their homes.
Compaore and Ouedraogo in their own statement called on Burkinabe people to "overcome political rifts" to rebuild the country and face what they described as the "shared peril" of the jihadist insurgency.
"There is an absolute urgency to reconquer occupied lands and restore the state's authority," they said.
Some 40 percent of the country lies outside the control of the government, a regional mediator said last month.
The other former leaders invited to attend Friday's summit were Roch Marc Christian Kabore, who was overthrown in January, Isaac Zida, who briefly took office in 2014 and currently lives in exile in Canada, and Michel Kafando, who ruled from 2014 to 2015.
But none of them showed up.
'Should be arrested'
Dozens of protesters demonstrated Friday morning outside Kabore's home in Ouagadougou to prevent him from attending.
Members of Kabore's party, the People's Movement for Progress (MPP), were among those demonstrating.
"Should we sacrifice justice, the foundation of the republican pact, on the altar of a certain national reconciliation?" the MPP asked.
Boukari Conombo, president of the Black Armband, a civil society movement, dismissed the new president's attempt at reconciliation as "a farce".
"It's not the role of Damiba who made a coup to reconcile people," he told AFP.
The Patriotic Front, which includes some 20 organisations and political parties, said Compaore "should be immediately arrested and taken to prison", as an international arrest warrant has been issued against him.
"This reconciliation must not and cannot be achieved by establishing impunity or by making arrangements between politicians," several trade unions, also present, said.
Among the other former presidents, Zida could not make it "for administrative reasons", while Kafando could not "for health reasons", according to Damiba.
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