TIME Burkina Faso

What You Need to Know About the Unrest in Burkina Faso

Anti-government protesters gather in the Place de la Nation in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, Oct. 31, 2014.
Anti-government protesters gather in the Place de la Nation in Ouagadougou, capital of Burkina Faso, Oct. 31, 2014. Joe Penney—Reuters

President Blaise Compaoré stepped down Oct. 31 after 27 year in power

The West African nation of Burkina Faso grabbed rare international headlines this week as thousands of people amassed in its capital, Ouagadougou, to protest plans to keep their longtime leader in office. After days of unrest that included setting Parliament ablaze, overrunning state TV broadcasters and deadly clashes with security forces, President Blaise Compaoré stepped down Oct. 31 after 27 years in power. Army Chief Gen. Honoré Nabéré Traoré quickly announced he would fill the void and said elections would take place within a year.

What are the basics about Burkina Faso?

Burkina Faso, which is densely populated with more than 17 million people and ranked by the United Nations as one of the world’s least-developed countries, shares borders with six countries: Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Côte d’Ivoire.

The country gained independence from France in 1960 and would suffer from five military coups in the first few decades that followed. It was known as Upper Volta until 1984, when it was renamed Burkina Faso, meaning “land of upright/honest people.”

Who is Blaise Compaoré?

Compaoré served as minister of state under President Thomas Sankara, who ruled from 1984 until 1987. Compaoré seized power when Sankara and 12 other officials were killed in mysterious circumstances by a group of soldiers.

He subsequently won four presidential elections, most recently in November 2010, although only 1.6 million Burkinabés (less than a tenth of the population) voted. This latest term was supposed to be Compaoré’s last, but Parliament was considering a bill this week to remove the constitutional limit, igniting the masses. (The President’s plans to extend his term in office in 2011 also led to the popular protests.)

Why does his step-down matter?

Despite his low international profile, Compaoré was a key ally of the U.S., helping in the fight against al-Qaeda affiliates operating in the Sahel and the Sahara by allowing the Americans to operate a base in Ouagadougou. France, as a former colonial power, also has Special Forces troops based in the country.

Burkina Faso’s geopolitical position also meant that Compaoré held notable diplomatic influence in the region and frequently acted as a mediator in West African conflicts, including those in Mali and Côte d’Ivoire. A report from the International Crisis Group in July 2013 said that the collapse of Burkina Faso’s diplomatic apparatus would “mean the loss of an important reference point for West Africa that, despite limitations, has played an essential role as a regulatory authority.”

The report added that Compaoré “has put in place a semi-authoritarian regime, combining [democratization] with repression, to ensure political stability,” yet suggested this system was both unsustainable and unlikely to allow for any smooth transition after his departure.

The toppling of Compaoré’s government is likely to bring a new challenges to the West by creating even more instability in the region and, potentially, a space in which extremist groups could flourish.

The White House expressed deep concern over the deteriorating situation this week and urged “all parties, including the security forces, to end the violence and return to a peaceful process to create a future for Burkina Faso that will build on Burkina Faso’s hard-won democratic gains.” France, which welcomed Compaoré’s resignation, also called for calm and urged all actors to exercise restraint.

So what’s next?

Reflecting on the week’s events, an official from the influential opposition party Movement of People for Progress (MPP), Emile Pargui Pare, told AFP: “October 30 is Burkina Faso’s Black Spring, like the Arab Spring.” Other commentators have also compared the demonstrations here with the Arab Spring, the wave of revolutionary protests and clashes that began in Tunisia in December 2010. Back in 2011, Burkinabés held up signs comparing Compaoré to the ousted Tunisian ruler, Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali.

The political events in Burkina Faso are likely to resonate across the continent, where several national leaders are due to step aside soon, including Rwanda’s Paul Kagame, who has hinted at extending his term as President. And on Wednesday in Benin, nearly 30,000 opposition supporters demonstrated in the streets of the country’s largest city, Cotonou, to push for local elections that were due in March 2013.

TIME Arts

Hundreds Protest Met’s New Opera for ‘Romanticizing Terrorism’

Protestors Hold Vigil, Rally Condemning "Klinghoffer" Opera Outside Lincoln Center
A protestor holds up a sign outside the Metropolitan Opera at Lincoln Center on opening night of the opera, "The Death of Klinghoffer" on October 20, 2014 in New York City. The opera, by John Adams, depicts the death of Leon Klinghoffer, a Jewish cruise passenger from New York, who was killed and dumped overboard during a 1985 hijacking of an Italian cruise ship by Palestinian terrorists. Bryan Thomas—Getty Images

"The Death of Klinghoffer'' is about the murder of a disabled Jewish man by Palestinian extremists

The Metropolitan Opera House’s opening night of 1991 opera The Death of Klinghoffer received a standing ovation in New York City Monday. But the noise made by crowds outside of Lincoln Center before the curtain rose may have rivaled the cheers inside the opera house.

Hundreds of protesters, including former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, railed against the John Adams opera about the 1985 murder of disabled cruise passenger Leon Klinghoffer by four members of the Palestinian Liberation Front, on charges that it is anti-Semitic and glorifies terrorists who shot a 69-year-old Jewish man in his wheelchair and then pushed him overboard.

“If you listen, you will see that the emotional context of the opera truly romanticizes terrorism,” Giuliani told crowds across the street from Lincoln Center. “And romanticizing terrorism has only made it a greater threat.”

The Met disagreed that the opera, which premiered in Brussels more than 20 years ago, glorifies terrorism.

“There’s no doubt for anyone who sees this opera that… it’s not anti-Semitic,” Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, told the BBC. “It does not glorify terrorism in any way. It is a brilliant work of art that must be performed… At the end of the day, anyone with any sense of moral understanding knows this opera is about the murder of an innocent man.”

The AP reports that there were a some orchestrated disruptions, including shouts of, “The murder of Klinghoffer will never be forgotten!” from the balcony, during the show, though the heckling was muffled by cheers when the cast took a bow.

TIME Mexico

Mexico Protesters Torch Local Government Headquarters

MEXICO-CRIME-STUDENTS-MISSING-PROTEST
A man stares at the blazing government headquarters in Chilpancingo, in Mexico's Guerrero state, on Oct. 13, 2014, after protesters set it on fire during demonstrations demanding the return of the 43 students still missing since an attack by rogue officers earlier this month Yuri Cortez—AFP/Getty Images

Enraged teachers and students demand the return of 43 students who disappeared after a gang-connected police attack on Sept. 26

Protesters looted and burned part of the government headquarters in Mexico’s Guerrero state during demonstrations demanding the return of 43 students who have been missing since a gang-connected police attack a few weeks ago.

No injuries were reported as the invading group of teachers and students allowed workers to leave before torching the complex, but five teachers and two police officers have been wounded in previous clashes between protesters and police, Agence France-Presse reports.

The 43 students have been missing since municipal police fired at their buses on Sept. 26. Authorities say they are waiting for DNA results from several mass graves that have since been discovered. The city’s mayor, his wife and the police chief have evaded questioning in a case that has enraged the Mexican public and brought tens of thousands on the streets.

“Starting tomorrow [Tuesday], we will increase our actions and radicalize our movement if the governor does not give information about the students’ whereabouts by midnight [Monday],” Ramos Reyes, leader of the CETEG teachers’ union, told AFP.

[AFP]

TIME Mexico

The Apparent Massacre of Dozens of Students Exposes the Corruption at the Heart of Mexico

Parents of the 43 missing students meet at the teachers rural college in Ayotzinapa, in Guerrero state, Mexico, Oct. 5, 2014.
Parents of the 43 missing students meet at the teachers rural college in Ayotzinapa, in Guerrero state, Mexico, Oct. 5, 2014. Adriana Zehbrauskas—Polaris

The disappearance and presumed killings of scores of students has led to protests against the Mexican government—and drug cartels

The young father’s corpse was left on the street of the southern Mexican town of Iguala with his eyes gouged out and flesh ripped off almost to the skull—a technique typical of the cartel murders that have become too common in this country. But unlike many victims of Mexico’s ongoing drug wars, he was no gang member, police officer or journalist. The body belonged to a 19-year old trainee teacher who had been preparing to participate in a march to commemorate a notorious massacre of Mexican students by the military and police in 1968. Instead of making it to that demonstration, though, the young man found himself the victim of a what will be a new atrocity date on Mexico’s bloody calendar.

The murder, which occurred on the night of Sept. 26 or morning of Sept. 27, was part of a brutal attack on student teachers by corrupt police officers and drug cartel assassins that has provoked protests across the nation. During the violence, at least six students and passersby were killed and another 43 students disappeared, with many last seen being bundled into police cars. Soldiers and federal agents have taken over the city of Iguala and have arrested more than 30 officers and alleged gunmen from a cartel called the Guerreros Unidos or Warriors United. They have also discovered a series of mass graves: on Oct. 4, they found 28 charred bodies and on Thursday night they discovered another four pits where they are unearthing more corpses. Agents are conducting DNA tests to see if the bodies belong to the students.

The atrocities have triggered national outrage and presented the biggest security-related challenge yet for Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto. Taking power in 2012, Pena Nieto promised to reduce the tens of thousands of cartel killings and modernize a sluggish economy. He has overseen the arrests of major drug lords like Joaquin “Chapo” Guzman, nabbed in February and Vicente Carrillo Fuentes, alias “The Viceroy,” who was detained on Thursday. But while the total number of homicides declined by 15% in his first year in office, parts of Mexico—such as Guerrero state, where Iguala sits—still suffer some of the highest murder rates in the world. There were 2,087 murders last year in Guerrero, a state of 3.4 million people, giving it a rate of 61 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants.

On Oct. 6, Pena Nieto swore the students would receive justice and ordered a major federal operation in response. “This is infuriating, painful and unacceptable,” he said in a televised address to the nation. But human rights groups and family members accused him of being slow to respond to the tragedy, allowing some of the possible perpetrators to escape. Iguala mayor Jose Luis Arbaca fled town more than four days after the shootings and disappearances. It later emerged that Mexico’s intelligence service had a file linking him to the Warriors United cartel. The mayor’s brother-in-law was arrested this week for involvement in the killings. “Very slow, Pena Nieto, very slow,” said Jose Miguel Vivanco, Americas director of Human Rights Watch. “This issue could have been cleared if the federal government had immediately taken responsibility for these students.”

However, the atrocities are also devastating to the opposition Democratic Revolution Party, or PRD. (Pena Nieto is a member of the Institutional Revolutionary Party, or PRI, which dominated Mexican politics for most of the 20th century.) Arbaca was a PRD member, and the party’s leader went to the city on Oct. 7 to personally apologize to residents. The governor of Guerrero state is also in the PRD and there have been calls for his resignation. The governor has denied the killing was his fault and called for a referendum on whether he should stay in power. Furthermore, when PRD founder Cuauhtemoc Cardenas joined a protest over the killings in Mexico City on Oct. 8 he was booed and had bottles thrown at him.

The march into Mexico City’s central plaza was joined by tens of thousands of people and was headed by family members of the victims. “I won’t rest until I have my son back,” Mario Cesar Gonzalez, father of 21-year old disappeared student Cesar, told TIME. “This is a problem of corrupt police and politicians working with drug cartels. I am going to fight until we discover the truth of what happened. I don’t care if they kill me. Nothing matters to me except my son.” Most of the disappeared students were the children of poor farmers and workers and went to a university for rural school teachers near Iguala.

Protesters also demonstrated in dozens of other cities across Mexico. In jungle-covered Chiapas state, thousands of the Zapatista rebels who rose up for indigenous rights in 1994 marched in silence in solidarity with the teachers. “Your pain is our pain,” said one banner. In Guerrero state itself, thousands blockaded major highways and shouted outside government buildings.

The killings brought back to the surface another problem that Pena Nieto’s government has been grappling with: vigilante groups that have risen to fight cartels. A Guerrero vigilante militia that operates in villages where many of the students come from has gone to Iguala, promising justice for the students. A local guerrilla group called the Revolutionary Army of Insurgent People said it will form a brigade to attack the Warriors United cartel. ” [We will] confront the political military aspects of this new front of the Mexican narco state,” says a masked man on a video message posted online as he stands besides photos of revolutionaries Emiliano Zapata and Pancho Villa.

The actual motives behind the attack on the students remain murky. About 120 students went into Iguala and had absconded with three buses from the Iguala station, which they wanted to take to the march in Mexico City. Students across Mexico often commandeer buses for their marches, a practice that is largely tolerated by the authorities. It was also reported by Mexican media that the students had disturbed a public event, angering city officials linked to the cartels, while the gangs might have believed the students were invading their turf.

One student who survived the attack said he wasn’t sure why the cartel and police went after them. “It came as a complete shock and surprise. We were relaxed and heading out of town, when suddenly there were bullets being fired from all directions,” said Alejandro, 19, who asked his surname not be used in case of reprisals. “I feel lucky that I am alive. But I think all the time about my companions who were taken. I don’t know what they could been through or how much pain they could have suffered. This makes me very sad and very angry.” Pena Nieto—and the rest of Mexico’s power brokers—should beware of that anger.

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: October 3

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. With 3D printing, prosthetic technology is poised to change millions of lives.

By Tom McKay in Mic

2. Dysfunctional oversight of the Department of Homeland Security undermines its mission.

By Daniel Kaniewski in The Hill

3. The web isn’t killing newspapers. Print readership has been in decline for 20 years.

By Whet Moser in Chicago Magazine

4. Skyrocketing drug traffic has deeply affected life on Indian reservations at the US-Mexico border.

By Shannon Mizzi in Wilson Quarterly

5. With Chinese elites joining the movement, the protests in Hong Kong could yield a partial win.

By Zack Beauchamp in Vox

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

Colorado Protesters Promise to Keep Fighting ‘Pro-Patriotism’ Curriculum Changes

Student Protest US History
Teachers, students and supporters march near the location of an ongoing Jefferson County School Board meeting, in Golden, Colo., Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014. Brennan Linsley—AP

The board’s conservative majority is likely to review AP History curriculum to ensure it promotes patriotism

Student and parent protestors promised a new round of demonstrations Friday after the conservative majority on a school board in Denver, Colorado suburbs moved forward with an effort to review its U.S. history class curriculum to include more “patriotic” content.

The board voted 3-2 to add new members, including students, parents and administrators to two curriculum review committees, which, Board President Ken Witt said, is expected to review the Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum. The move comes after board member Julie Williams proposed that the AP U.S. history curriculum be looked over to ensure it promotes patriotism, the Associated Press reports. Protestors accuse the board’s conservative majority of using its position to further conservative political aims.

The College Board, which oversees Advanced Placement classes and testing, introduced a new approach to U.S. history this year that favors examining primary source documents and places greater emphasis on women, minorities and native peoples. Some conservatives and other detractors say the new curriculum is at its core anti-American.

Similar fights have broken out across the country in recent years, particularly with regard to state education standards known as the Common Core, which some conservatives say amounts to government meddling in local affairs.

[AP]

TIME justice

Ferguson Protesters Arrested in First Confrontation With Police in Weeks

A police officer observes the crowd gathered in protest the police shooting of teenager Mike Brown, Ferguson, Missouri, Sept. 29, 2014.
A police officer observes the crowd gathered in protest the police shooting of teenager Mike Brown, Ferguson, Missouri, Sept. 29, 2014. James Cooper—Demotix/Corbis

A new round of clashes after nightly taunts by demonstrators

Police in Ferguson, Missouri arrested about half a dozen protesters Thursday night after days of late-night demonstrations and repeated acts of civil disobedience, marking an end to a period of relative calm after weeks of violent clashes between demonstrators and law enforcement after the August shooting of unarmed teenager Michael Brown by police officer Darren Wilson.

Those arrested included members of an activist group known as the Millennials as well as a freelance journalist for CNN, The Washington Post reports. It’s not clear on what charges the protesters were arrested, but according to the Post, the demonstrators had been staging confrontations with the police for days, linking arms to block the street or loudly chanting in the streets well past an 11 p.m. noise ordinance.

On Thursday, police reportedly asked the group to quiet down, which sparked only louder chants and an eventual clash between law enforcement and demonstrators, reports the Post.

[The Washington Post]

TIME Hong Kong

WATCH: Hong Kong Students Stand Their Ground in Fifth Night of Protests

Hong Kong’s Chief Executive, Leung Chun-Ying refused to resign Thursday. Instead, he offered the Hong Kong Student Federation a chance to speak with another government official, Chief Secretary Carrie Lam. The student protesters who have been occupying the financial district for the past five days did not buy Leung’s offer and after a tense stand off with police, continued to occupy the area around the government complex,

TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Marks National Day With Demands for Reform

Official ceremonies celebrating China's National Day took place amid its usual pomp — but for one district councillor who held an umbrella, which has become a symbol of a movement for political reform. On the streets, tens of thousands have gathered to demand changes to the electoral process

TIME Hong Kong

Watch What It’s Like to Be at the Hong Kong Protests

Tens of thousands of people descended onto the streets of Hong Kong to demand change in the electoral system. Support for the "Occupy Central" movement grew after police used tear gas on protesters on Sunday

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