BOBO-DIOULASSO, Burkina Faso (Reuters) - Presidential hopefuls in Burkina Faso kicked off campaigning on Sunday for an election meant to restore democratic rule and choose a successor to longtime leader Blaise Compaore, who was ousted in a popular uprising last year.
Compaore’s attempt to change the constitution in order to extend his 27-year rule was met with mass protests that forced him to resign and flee the country, a poor, cotton-producing state south of the Sahara desert. Since then, the West African nation has been governed by a transitional administration.
Fourteen candidates are vying for the presidency in what is expected to be an open and hotly contested poll on Nov. 29.
Among the frontrunners, Roch Marc Christian Kabore, a former prime minister and parliament speaker who left Compaore’s party early last year, held his first rally in Bobo-Dioulasso, Burkina Faso’s second largest city.
Organisers said the event drew a crowd of around 30,000 people, some of whom chanted “President, President” as Kabore entered the football stadium where it was held.
“This is the first truly democratic campaign in our country. As a candidate, I ask all of our supporters to make this a responsible campaign,” he told the crowd.
Zephirin Diabre, the former leader of the opposition during Compaore’s regime, held his opening rally in Fada N’Gourma, an important market town in the east of the country, before several thousand supporters.
Meanwhile Benewende Stanislas Sankara, another frontrunner who claims to be the political heir to former Burkina Faso leader and African folk hero Thomas Sankara, launched his campaign in the western town of Solenzo.
“I hope that the campaign will take place in peace and harmony. I ask all the candidates to get along with each other,” Georgette Sanou, a homemaker in Bobo-Dioulasso, said on the first day of the campaign.
Burkina Faso’s year-long transition was nearly derailed in September when members of the elite presidential guard led by Compaore’s former spy chief Gilbert Diendere staged a coup attempt.
While the week-long putsch ultimately failed, it forced the transitional authorities to push back the presidential and legislative elections, which were originally scheduled for Oct. 11.
The transitional government changed the electoral law in April to exclude anyone who supported Compaore’s bid to remain in power.
The controversial measure led to the exclusion of Eddie Komboigo, the candidate for Compaore’s Congress for Democracy and Progress, as well as former foreign minister Djibril Bassole.
Bassole was arrested in the wake of the coup attempt on charges that include colluding with foreign forces to destabilise interior security. However, his lawyer claimed last week that the case against him was politically motivated.
Writing by Joe Bavier; Editing by Digby Lidstone