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Burkina scrambles to pick interim head before sanctions deadline

AFP , Sunday 16 Nov 2014
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Burkina Faso on Sunday scrambled to pick an interim president ahead of an African Union sanctions deadline after the army seized power following the ouster of longtime ruler Blaise Compaore.

Four candidates ranging from a crusading journalist to a former top diplomat emerged on the short list after tangled negotiations between the army, political parties and civil society groups in the West African nation.

Initially Paul Ouedraogo, the archbishop of the southern Bobo-Dioulasso diocese, appeared to be a frontrunner despite his reluctance but the church later announced "categorically" that he was not in the race.

The archbishop had himself told French radio last week: "The cleric doesn't engage in this kind of power."

On Sunday, a spokesman for the Catholic Church "categorically" said "there will be no archbishop among the candidates."

The choices being mulled on Sunday ranged from journalist Cherif Sy, who founded a weekly that had been bitingly critical of Compaore, former television presenter and journalist Newton Ahmed Barry, former top diplomat Michel Kafando and sociologist and ex-minister Josephine Ouedraogo.

The authorities in the country of 17 million are trying to pick an interim head for a one-year transition period up to elections in November 2015.

Lieutenant Colonel Issac Zida, the army-installed leader, had given the various parties until noon on Sunday to submit names to a panel of 23 mainly civilian electors, who are expected to appoint the interim leader early this week.

An army official told AFP the nomination should occur "Monday at the latest", while opposition leader Zephirin Diabre, a member of the Electoral College, expected the interim leader to be known by Sunday night.

The African Union on November 3 issued an ultimatum to Burkina Faso to establish interim institutions and pick an interim president by Monday or face sanctions following Compaore's October 31 ouster and the army takeover.

The Electoral College met for the first time early Sunday in the capital Ouagadougou. Members will interview the candidates ahead of a working session set for 6 pm (1800 GMT).

The army backs Kafando, who served two stints at the United Nations and was also foreign minister, and Ouedraogo, a sociologist who served as family development minister in the 1980s.

On Saturday, the military reinstated the constitution, suspended when the army filled the vacuum created by the departure of Compaore who ruled for 27 years after seizing power in a coup.

Religious and traditional authorities have not indicated their preferences.

A "transition charter" -- a sort of interim constitution hammered out between the military and civilian, opposition and religious figures last week -- was to be officially signed on Sunday.

Under the deal, the president will appoint a prime minister, either a civilian or a military figure, who will head a 25-member transitional government.

A civilian will also head a 90-seat parliament, known as the National Transitional Council.

According to a draft of the transition blueprint, no members of the interim regime will be allowed to stand in the November 2015 election.

Compaore, who seized power in 1987, quit after violent protests sparked by his bid to extend his rule by changing the constitution of the landlocked former French colony.

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