French military convoy blocked in Burkina Faso by protesters

A convoy of French troops in Burkina Faso was stopped en route to Niger on Friday by a human barricade of protesters opposed to France's involvement in a regional conflict with jihadists, witnesses said.

Anger is rising in the West African country over the inability of Burkinabe and international forces to prevent rising violence by Islamist militants. State security forces suffered their heaviest loss in years on Sunday when gunmen killed 49 military police officers and four civilians.

Hundreds of people massed on the road to block the French armoured vehicles' path in the city of Kaya, witnesses told Reuters. The convoy encountered similar protests in other towns, but had been able to continue until Kaya, local media reported.

A source at the French embassy in the capital Ouagadougou and a French army source confirmed the troops had been prevented from advancing beyond Kaya, without giving further details.

Former colonial power France intervened in neighbouring Mali in 2013 to temporarily beat back an Islamist insurgency that had seized the country's desert north.

But even as thousands of French troops have remained in the region since then, militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have strengthened their foothold and expanded into countries like Burkina Faso and Niger.

The militants have stoked ethnic conflict and made vast tracts of the Sahel region ungovernable. The resulting bloodshed has killed thousands and driven millions from their homes in one of the world's worst humanitarian crises.

France is currently in the process of roughly halving its previous troop strength in the Sahel to about 2,500-3,000 soldiers as it looks to transfer more responsibility to local armies and a multinational European taskforce.

(Reporting by Thiam Ndiaga and Anne Mimault; Writing by Alessandra Prentice; Editing by Aaron Ross and Giles Elgood)

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