Burundi coup: Explosions and gunfire in the capital as president's return is blocked
Loud explosions and gunfire could be heard in Burundi's capital on Thursday morning, the day after an army general announced he had ousted President Pierre Nkurunziza, whose decision to seek a third term in office provoked angry street protests.
Heavy fighting broke out overnight in Bujumbura, which has been the scene of two weeks of violent demonstrations against another term for Mr Nkurunziza.
Thousands took to the streets on Wednesday to celebrate after Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare announced on a private radio station that Mr Nkurunziza had been relieved of his duties.
Demonstrators take part in a protest in Bujumbura (AFP/Getty Images)
Mr Nkurunziza was in neighboring Tanzania for a summit on his country's troubles at the time. A Tanzanian official had said he left for Burundi on Wednesday but a security source told Reuters his plane could not fly to Bujumbura as its airport was closed. Maj. Gen. Niyombare has also ordered the borders shut.
Official Tanzanian sources told AFP on Thursday that Mr Nkurunziza was currently in a secret location in Tanzania's port city of Dar es Salaam.
"He is in Dar es Salaam, we cannot tell you where. We cannot bring him to the same hotel for security reasons," one of the sources, a senior Tanzanian presidential security official.
It remains unclear who is running the country, with the military said to be divided between Nkurunziza loyalists and those who back Maj. Gen. Niyombare, who had been fired in February as the country's intelligence chief.
Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza (AFP/Getty Images)
Mr Nkurinziza appealed to the nation to stay calm in a brief state statement on the presidential website and his Twitter feed on Thursday.
"President Pierre Nkurunziza calls on the Burundian people to remain calm," the statement said, after the Army Chief of Staff General Prime Niyongabo said on state radio that the coup attempted had "failed" and that loyalist forces still controlled all strategic points in Burundi.
But a spokesman for the coup leaders, Venon Nbadaneze, told AFP during a lull in fighting on Thursday morning that they were now in control of most of the capital. "We control virtually the entire city. The soldiers who are being deployed are on our side," he said.
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A grenade attack on Wednesday night seriously damaged the building of private broadcaster Renaissance TV, where the general also made his coup statement, said the station's director, Innocent Muhozi. One of his offices was also burned overnight, he added.
A detained protester strugles with a policeman during a protest in Bujumbura (Reuters)
Police withdrew from the streets of Bujumbura after the coup statement, and people thronged Bujumbura's streets and applauded soldiers who rode by in tanks and trucks. But some officials remained loyal to Mr Nkurunziza. His office said a statement posted on the president's Twitter and Facebook accounts on Wednesday evening that the coup attempt was unsuccessful.
At least 22 people were killed during daily protests over Mr Nkurunziza's bid for a third term. During almost three weeks of unrest, the military acted as a buffer between police and protesters who said Mr Nkurunziza's bid for a third was a violation of the constitution and Arusha peace accords that ended a civil war here.
Burundi's constitution states a president can be popularly elected to two five-year terms. Mr Nkurunziza maintains he can run for a third term because parliament elected him for his first one, leaving him open to be popularly elected to two terms.
The US government on Wednesday called on all sides in Burundi to end the violence and expressed full support for the ongoing work by regional leaders to restore peace and unity in the country.