November 17, 2014 / 4:12 AM / 5 years ago

Burkina names former foreign minister as interim leader

OUAGADOUGOU (Reuters) - Authorities in Burkina Faso named former foreign minister Michel Kafando as transitional president on Monday in a key step towards restoring democratic civilian rule in the wake of a military takeover.

Kafando was chosen as part of a charter hammered out after longtime President Blaise Compaore resigned and fled the country on Oct. 31 amid mass protests against his attempt to change the constitution and extend his 27-year rule.

Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida stepped in the following day and declared himself head of the West African state.

Kafando, who also twice served as ambassador to the United Nations, will be sworn in on Tuesday to lead the nation to elections next year at which he will be barred from standing.

His first task will be to name a prime minister to appoint a 25-member transitional government.

“This is more than an honour. It’s a true mission which I will take with the utmost seriousness,” Kafando said following his appointment.

The committee, drawn from the army, traditional and religious groups, civil society and Burkina’s political parties, chose him from among five candidates in a closed-door meeting that began on Sunday and went into the early hours on Monday.

His candidacy was proposed by the army.

“The choice of Michel Kafando is judicious,” said Simon Compaore, a leader of the opposition People’s Movement for Progress (MPP) party.

“We’re also satisfied to see that Lieutenant Colonel Zida kept to his word,” said the opposition politician, who is not related to the former president.

The African Union (AU) had given Zida, the operational commander of the elite presidential guard, two weeks to re-establish civilian rule or face sanctions. On Saturday, he restored the constitution, which was suspended when Compaore was forced from power.

In a statement on Monday, Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, the head of the AU commission, said she welcomed the progress. Former colonial ruler France, which held Compaore a key ally against Islamist militants in the region, congratulated Kafando, 72.

“It’s a page that is turning for the future of Burkina. We are relieved. I wish him luck. The people are ready to help him,” said Awa Yameogo, a tax agent in the capital Ouagadougou.

Writing by Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Joe Bavier; Editing by Nick Macfie and Tom Heneghan

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