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Burkina Faso begins trial of alleged killers of ex-leader, Thomas Sankara

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A military court in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on Monday, began the long-awaited trial of 14 men, including a former president of the country, accused of assassinating the late left-wing leader of the country, Thomas Sankara, 34 years ago.

The death of the pan-African icon has for years cast a shadow over the country, giving it a reputation for turbulence and bloodshed.

Sankara and 12 others were riddled with bullets by a hit squad on October 15, 1987, during a coup d’état, led by his friend and top associate, Blaise Compaore.

However, Compaore, who is the chief accused has always rejected suspicions that he orchestrated the killing, and had announced that he would boycott the trial.

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His lawyers last week announced he would not be attending a “political trial” that they said was flawed by irregularities, and insisted he enjoyed immunity as a former head of state.

He ruled the country for 27 years before being deposed by a popular uprising in 2014 and had fled the country to the neighbouring Ivory Coast, which granted him citizenship.

Compaore and his former right-hand man, General Gilbert Diendere, who once headed the elite Presidential Security Regiment, face charges of complicity in murder, harming state security and complicity in the concealment of corpses.

Diendere is already serving a 20-year sentence for masterminding a plot in 2015 against the transitional government that followed Compaore’s ouster.

Another prominent figure among the accused, who is currently on the run is Hyacinthe Kafando, a former chief warrant officer in Compaore’s presidential guard, who is accused of leading the gunmen.

A young army captain and Marxist-Leninist, Sankara came to power in a coup in 1983 aged just 33, tossing out the country’s name of Upper Volta, and renamed it Burkina Faso, which means “the land of honest men”.

He pushed ahead with a socialist agenda of nationalisations and banned female genital mutilation, polygamy and forced marriages.

Like Ghana’s former leader, Jerry Rawlings, he became an idol in left-wing circles in Africa, lauded for his radical policies and defiance of the big powers.

Meanwhile, after Compaore’s ouster, the interim government in 2015 launched an investigation into the Sankara murder, and the following year issued an international arrest warrant for him.

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