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Defence minister sacked after questioning over coup attempt

[Burkina Faso] President Blaise Campaore.

Burkina Faso's Defence Minister, General Kouame Lougue, was sacked at the weekend, a week after the state prosecutor revealed that he had been questioned in connection with a coup plot against President Blaise Campaore.

Lougue, who was very popular within the army, was replaced by Yero Boli, the head of Campaore's presidential staff, a trusted civilian aide of the president, who was Minister of the Interior until 2000.

Lougue had until recently been viewed as a loyal supporter of the president. He helped to suppress a coup attempt against Campaore in 1999 and was appointed Defence Minister the following year.

However, there has been a growing sense of malaise within the armed forces following the arrest of 16 officers and two civilians in connection with a coup plot that was discovered in September last year. One of the soldiers detained was officially said to have hanged himself in jail a few days after his arrest.

Most of those arrested in connection with the plot were detained in October. However, State Prosecutor Abdoulaye Barry revealed last week that a new suspect, Major Remy Kambou Sie had been picked up on 2 January.

Barry mentioned at the same time that General Lougue and nine other officers had been questioned about the abortive attempt to topple Campaore, but had not been detained or charged.

Last Friday, Lougue said in a televised speech that the media were to blame for spreading malicious talk about divisions within the armed forces. He urged his troops to maintain "discipline and respect" and said the president had full trust in the army.

But 24 hours later, state television announced on its Saturday night news programme that Lougue had been sacked. No reason was given for his dismissal.

Several local newspapers have reported that Campaore suspected Lougue of involvement in the coup plot, which, according to the state prosecutor, received financial support from neighbouring Cote d'Ivoire and Togo.

The monthly newspaper L'Evenement and the weekly L'Independent both reported that in view of the suspiscions against him Lougue had been wanting to resign as defence minister since October.

President Campaore came to power in a bloody coup in 1987, during which his predecessor, Thomas Sankara, was killed.

For the past two years his relations with neighbouring Cote d'Ivoire have been tense. About 350,000 Burkinabe migrants to Cote d'Ivoire returned home following the outbreak of civil war in the country in September 2002. Ivorian President Laurent Gbagbo has accused Campaore of supporting rebels who occupy the northern half of Cote d'Ivoire.

State television also announced on Saturday the appointment of a new Information Minister and Minister of the Environment.

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