Like so many strongmen before him, Compaoré was forced to abandon the luxurious trappings of the presidential palace and flee for safety as his regime collapsed. A heavily armed convoy believed to be carrying the 63-year-old was seen travelling on Friday towards the southern town of Po, near the border with Ghana, according to sources quoted by Reuters. It was not clear whether he would seek asylum.
Lieutenant Colonel Isaac Zida of the presidential guard had earlier announced Compaoré’s departure in the central Place de la Nation in the capital, Ouagadougou, to cheering from a huge crowd of protesters.
Outside the army headquarters, Colonel Boureima Farta, hoisted on the shoulders of other officers, declared: “As of today, Compaoré is no longer in power.”
It was a defining moment for the country’s young population, many of whom were not born when Compaoré came to power in a 1987 coup in which Thomas Sankara, his former friend and one of Africa’s most revered leaders, was ousted and assassinated.
Compaoré issued a statement on Friday that said: “In order to preserve the democratic gains, as well as social peace … I declare a vacancy of power with a view to allowing a transition that should finish with free and transparent elections in a maximum period of 90 days.”
A car burns outside the parliament building in Burkina Faso
A car burns outside the parliament building in Burkina Faso on Thursday during anti-Compaoré protests. Photograph: Theo Renaut/AP
The announcement, read out on state television, was a sudden change from Thursday when Compaoré vowed to hold on to power through next year, after protesters stormed parliament and other official buildings, ransacking them and setting them on fire.
Opposition leaders said about 30 people died in Thursday’s violence. Agence France-Presse was only able to confirm four deaths and six seriously injured, based partly on reports from the capital’s main hospital.
For months, an opposition coalition has been urging Compaoré not to seek re-election next year, in what would have been his fifth term in power. But Compaoré and his ruling party looked set to push a bill through parliament on Thursday that would have allowed him to run again.
Protesters overran the parliament, the vote was suspended and the military announced the legislature had been dissolved and a transition government would be formed. Compaoré said he would lead the government until new elections next year.
But demonstrators rejected that plan and gathered again on Friday, demanding Compaoré step down immediately.
Compaoré was a close ally of the US and France but was also close to Muammar Gaddafi, the former Libyan leader, and the ex-president of Liberia, Charles Taylor, who was found guilty of aiding and abetting crimes against humanity.
He had become a regional power-broker, serving as a key mediator in the Ivory Coast peace process and moves to restore civilian rule in Guinea.
The EU called for the people of Burkina Faso to have the final say on who governs the country. A spokesman said: “The European Union believes that it is up to the people of Burkina Faso to decide their own future. Any solution must be the result of a broad consensus and respect the constitution.”
The EU said it was “working with all actors on the ground to find a solution” and consulting with international partners over the crisis. “We are ready to work with the people of Burkina Faso to ensure a return to normality, including the organisation of elections,” it said.
France welcomed Compaoré’s resignation: “France recalls its support for the constitution and thus for early, democratic elections,” President François Hollande’s office said in a statement.
Burkina Faso is a landlocked country with a population of 16.9 million and ranks near the bottom of the UN’s human development index. Nearly half the population lives on less than one dollar a day.