Burkina parties rally around junta following deadly ambush

Political parties and civil groups in Burkina Faso voiced their backing for the ruling junta Tuesday following an ambush in which dozens of soldiers were killed by jihadists.

Support came notably from the Union for Progress and Change (UPC), which was among the first parties to see its activities suppressed after a coup last September.

"In these difficult times, I urge the Burkinabe people to cultivate a spirit of national unity and support the transitional authorities in their resolve to restore our territorial integrity," said UPC leader Zephirin Diabre.

The National Youth Council of Burkina Faso called on "all young people to (take part) in a sacred national union" around the armed forces and the authorities.

One of the world's poorest nations, Burkina Faso has been rocked by a jihadist insurgency that spread from Mali in 2015.

Anger within the military at the mounting toll sparked two coups last year. Despite the takeovers, jihadist attacks have been on the rise.

Junta leader Captain Ibrahim Traore on Tuesday acknowledged the fight was "strewn with pitfalls" but said the authorities remained "determined" to triumph.

The army, giving what it said was a provisional toll, said 51 soldiers and around 160 jihadists were killed after a convoy was ambushed in the northern region of Oudalan last Friday.

The toll was the deadliest among the security forces since Traore, 34, took power in late September, vowing to recover territory captured by the jihadists.

Around 40 percent of the West African nation lies in the hands of jihadists affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group.

The Pan-African Salvation Party (PPS), considered close to the junta, said the ambush "further plunged an already battered population into pain and mourning".

The influential independent daily L'Observateur Paalga said Traore was facing his "first real test."

But political commentator Harouna Traore questioned army tactics.

"Why are patrols being carried out without aerial surveillance? Today, we have drones, reconnaissance aircraft, which should mean we no longer run into ambushes," he said.

Burkina Faso's ruling junta, like its counterpart in Mali, has fallen out with France, the country's traditional ally.

France is pulling out its troops -- a special forces unit based near the capital Ouagadougou.