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Burkina Faso coup leader says he will hand back power

The leader of a coup in Burkina Faso has apologised to the nation and said he will hand over power to a civilian transitional government.

The statement issued by General Gilbert Diendere to journalists came as the military threatened to forcibly disarm the presidential guard responsible for last week's coup.

The heads of the National Armed Forces said troops would converge on the capital of Ouagadougou to try to disarm the junta without bloodshed. The announcement raised fears of violent clashes.

Gen Diendere said the junta was allowing for the release of the interim prime minister who has been under house arrest since the coup.

Regional mediators are pushing for new, more inclusive elections no later than the end of November.

Gen Diendere said his presidential guard unit "confirms our commitment to giving power back to civilian authorities".

That was one of the key conditions of a draft agreement that resulted from the weekend negotiations with regional mediators, but it had been unclear until his announcement whether the junta would abide by those terms.

Gen Diendere, who led the presidential guard under long-time leader Blaise Compaore until he was forced from power in a popular uprising last year, said the compromises were necessary to avoid further bloodshed. The risk of clashes could lead to "chaos, civil war and massive human rights violations", he said.

The National Armed Forces statement said: "We demand that they put down their weapons and rejoin Camp Sangoule Lamizana," promising that the returning soldiers and their families would be protected.

Junta members had said they were angered that members of Mr Compaore's former ruling party could not take part in elections that were set for October 11.

He was president for 27 years but his bid to extend his rule prompted massive street protests that led to his removal.

The mediators, led by the presidents of Senegal and Benin, announced a plan late on Sunday that calls for new elections by the end of November. The plan drafted by mediators is supposed to go before the West African regional bloc known as ECOWAS in Nigeria on Tuesday.

The streets of Ouagadougou remained tense after the latest development, and many demonstrators said they felt the ECOWAS compromise plan was too lenient on the junta.

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