Burkina Faso’s government on Sunday confirmed reports of gunfire at some military camps but denied rumours of an army takeover as heavy gunfire rang out from the main military base in the capital Ouagadougou.
The gunfire at the Sangoule Lamizana camp, which houses the Burkinabe army’s general staff, began as early as 5am local time (0500 GMT) and could still be heard hours later.
A Reuters reporter saw soldiers firing into the air in the camp, which also houses a prison whose inmates include soldiers involved in a failed 2015 coup attempt.
Shots were also heard at another military camp, Baby Sy, in the south of the capital, and at an air base near the airport, military sources said, while residents in the northern towns of Kaya and Ouahigouya reported hearing gunfire there too.
Appearing on state TV, Defence Minister General Bathelemy Simpore denied rumours that President Roch Marc Kaboré had been detained. He added that the motive of the shootings was still unclear.
Earlier, a government spokesman acknowledged the reports of gunfire “in some barracks” and urged the public to remain calm.
Governments in West and Central Africa are on high alert for coups after successful putsches over the past 18 months in Mali and Guinea. The military also took over in Chad last year after President Idriss Deby died on the battlefield.
Burkinabe authorities arrested a dozen soldiers earlier this month on suspicion of conspiring against the government.
The arrests followed a shake-up within the army’s leadership in December, which some analysts saw as an effort by Kabore to shore up his support within the military.
Rising violence in the West African country by Islamist militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State killed over 2,000 people last year, prompting violent street protests in November calling for Kabore to step down.
Additional demonstrations were planned for Saturday, but the government banned them and security forces fired tear gas at protesters barricading the streets of Ouagadougou.
The government has suspended mobile internet service on several occasions, and the tense situation in November led the UN special envoy to West Africa to warn against any military takeover.
Among the inmates at the Sangoule Lamizana camp prison is General Gilbert Diendere, who was a top ally of Burkina Faso’s former president, Blaise Compaore. Compaore was overthrown in a 2014 uprising.
Diendere led a failed coup attempt the following year against the transitional government. He was sentenced in 2019 to 20 years in prison. He is also currently on trial in connection with the killing of Compaore’s predecessor, Thomas Sankara, during a coup in 1987.