February 27, 2018 / 10:28 PM / 4 months ago

Trial of alleged coup leaders opens in Burkina Faso

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Two senior allies of Burkina Faso’s deposed former President Blaise Compaore and scores of others appeared in court on Tuesday accused of organising a 2015 coup attempt against a transitional government.

Protesters, angered by Compaore’s attempt to change the constitution to extend his 27-year rule, forced him to flee the West African nation in 2014. He now lives in exile in neighbouring Ivory Coast.

Troops from the elite Presidential Security Regiment under the command of General Gilbert Diendere, Compaore’s right-hand man, took members of the transitional government hostage less than a month before elections the following year.

The week-long power grab failed, but 14 people were killed and more than 250 others were wounded as they attempted to resist the putsch.

Diendere’s supporters, among hundreds of observers who braved strict security checks to pack the courtroom in the capital of Ouagadougou, cheered the former spy chief when he stood to confirm his presence to the military tribunal.

He is charged with threatening state security, murder and assault and battery.

Beside him, refusing to speak, sat ex-foreign minister Djibril Bassole, who is accused of being the coup’s mastermind and faces charges of treason and conspiring with a foreign force.

In total, 84 people are charged with crimes related to the failed coup.

However defence lawyers challenged the legality of the tribunal, claiming its composition did not follow proper procedure, and walked out of the courtroom before any of their clients could enter a plea.

“This trial is an important moment in the history of our country. It must therefore proceed in an exemplary manner,” said Mamadou Savadogo, a member of the defence team.

Court was adjourned and no date was given for the next hearing.

“We are not discouraged, because this is the beginning of the end of impunity,” Chrysogome Zougmore, head of the Burkinabe Movement for Human Rights and Peoples, told Reuters.

Over 300 victims are claiming damages as part of the trial.

Serge Bayala’s leg was in a cast when RSP soldiers arrived to break up protests against the coup.

“Everyone fled,” he said. “They shot me, rebreaking my leg which was almost healed. Today we are demanding truth for all the victims.”

Reporting by Nadoun Coulibaly, additional reporting by Thiam Ndiaga; writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Ben Klayman

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