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Burkina Faso: French Institute vandalized during anti-coup demonstrations

Smashed window of the French Institute Ouagadougou   -  
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Burkina Faso

Burned-out walls, broken windows, smashed doors, scattered computers, and books: dear to the cultural milieu, the French Institute in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, the scene of a putsch at the end of September, now presents nothing but desolate scenes.

On October 1, demonstrations multiplied in the aftermath of the coup d'état that brought Captain Ibrahim Traoré to power, deposing Lieutenant-Colonel Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, himself the author of a putsch eight months earlier.

French buildings, including the French embassy and the French institutes in Ouagadougou and Bobo-Dioulasso, the country's second-largest city, were attacked by demonstrators who accused Paris of protecting Lieutenant Colonel Damiba, whose departure they demanded.

In Ouagadougou, the street leading to the French Institute was littered with broken glass, broken computers, and burned air conditioners.

The building is now isolated by a security perimeter installed by the Burkinabe police, a journalist from AFP noted on Wednesday.

In the entrance hall, the portals and baggage scanners were burned, and the ceiling and walls were blackened by flames.

"It is the work of real monsters, who today can not even justify the ransacking of places so important for the cultural, student, professional and artistic world," said, between two sighs, William Somda, a cultural entrepreneur, dejected by "the extent of the damage.

"All the buildings were ransacked: the two levels of the adult media library, the children's media library, the language center, the exhibition hall, and the two performance halls," laments Thierry Bambara, general manager of the French Institute of Ouagadougou.

"The damage is enormous. We will have to wait for an exhaustive assessment to put a figure on the damage," he said, adding that "computers, various other devices, including consoles, musical instruments were burned.

"We start by burning books and then we will burn people. Whoever can burn a library, a cultural space, has burned the men who wrote these books," said Salif Sanfo, a cultural operator and former deputy, looking at the damage in the library.

In the large library room, the shelves are overturned, and books, covered with soot, litter the floor, scattered among CD-ROMs and computer keyboards.

- "A symbol" -

"We are going the wrong way and playing into the hands of those who are logically our enemies and who burned the libraries in Timbuktu (in Mali). Those who burned the French Institute are no better than these people," the jihadists who have targeted the country since 2015, he slices.

"It is distressing! We will have to condemn with the utmost firmness the perpetrators of these acts of vandalism," says Mr. Sanfo, who "hopes not to see such a scene unworthy of the legendary Burkinabe hospitality."

"We must not throw out the bathwater with the baby. Whether one is pro-Russian or anti-French, the institute was and is a symbol for Burkina Faso," he said, referring to anti-French sentiment and the presence of Russian flags during the demonstrations.

"We have been going to this place for years and it has become a second home for us. To see it in this state, by the fact of insane, it is a big sadness, a desolation and a loss for the Burkinabè, in particular, the artists", explains to AFP Ali Ouedraogo, a visual artist, looking haggard, in front of paintings piled up in the exhibition room.

For the Burkinabe musician and instrumentalist Kantala, "the ransacking of the Institute is a blow for us. Our projects take a blow because what was made available to us by this space and its administration, we are not sure to have elsewhere.

"I have a festival in preparation that was to take place here at the French Institute in December. Now I don't know how to do it!" he sighs.

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