May 8, 2017 / 8:37 PM / in 5 months

Trial of Burkina Faso's ex-leader, ministers begins after delays

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - A trial of Burkina Faso’s former leader Blaise Compaore and his cabinet began on Monday after delays, with the court dismissing calls from the defence to cancel the proceedings.

Soldiers patrol during the trial of officials and ministers of the former leader of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaore at the justice palace, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso May 4, 2017. REUTERS/Bonaventure Pare

Compaore, who fled during a popular revolt in 2014 as he sought to extend his 27-year-rule of the West African country, is being tried in absentia.

The former Western ally currently resides in exile in neighbouring Ivory Coast, where he has since acquired citizenship and which refuses to extradite him.

Along with around 30 former ministers, Compaore faces assassination charges for allegedly authorising the use of force against unarmed protesters, killing at least 24.

The defendants appeared relaxed in the packed courtroom of the justice palace in the capital Ouagadougou on Monday, smiling and shaking hands with old acquaintances during breaks.

Among the crowd were both senior officials of Compaore’s former ruling party, which remains a powerful political force in the country and former protesters, a Reuters witness said.

Defence lawyers on Monday numbering more than a dozen sought to dismiss proceedings, arguing that it was unconstitutional since there are no means for the accused to appeal the verdict.

After a three-hour pause, the president rejected their request, prompting the defence lawyers to walk out in protest.

“We decided to leave since this version of justice violates the constitution, the rights of the defence and international texts,” said lawyer Antoinette Ouedraogo.

The trial resumes on Monday. The lawyers had previously been granted two requests to postpone the proceedings. The president of the court asked the defendants to find new lawyers for the next hearing.

Since the 2014 uprising, the former French colony has completed a rocky transition period, during which a former ally of Compaore’s attempted to seize power in an averted coup followed by peaceful general elections.

Some Burkinabes say they are disappointed that the post-Compaore government led by Roch Marc Kabore has not delivered on its reform pledges and express regret at Compaore’s absence.

Still, they welcomed the opening of the trial - the first in a series of cases being investigated to be brought to trial.

“This is the people’s trial and what is right must be said so that we can understand what really happened in this country,” said Marcel Tankoano, head of civil society group M21, who was wounded during the October 2014 protests.

Writing by Emma Farge; Editing by Tom Heneghan

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