A coup attempt has been launched in Burundi to try to overthrow President Pierre Nkurunziza, amid unrest over his bid to be re-elected to a third term, BBC reports. Thousands of people in the capital, Bujumbura, celebrated the announcement by Major General Godefroid Niyombare. But the coup outcome is far from clear. The presidency says the coup has been foiled and the perpetrators will be brought to justice. Mr Nkurunziza has now left a summit in Tanzania and is reportedly trying to return to Burundi.
Gen Niyombare said in a radio address he had ordered “the closure of the airport and border, and I ask every citizen and law enforcement down to the airport to protect it”. Mr Nkurunziza had been meeting other East African leaders to discuss the crisis. Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said the summit condemned the coup. A statement from the Burundi presidency said: “It is with regret that we have learned that a group from the armed forces mutinied this morning and declared an imaginary coup.
“This coup attempt has been foiled and that these people, who read the coup announcement on the radio, are being hunted by defence and security forces so that they can be brought to justice.” A presidential spokesman said Mr Nkurunziza would address the nation on his return and was not afraid. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged all parties to exercise restraint.
The BBC’s Maud Jullien in Bujumbura says thousands of protesters marched to the city centre alongside soldiers and two tanks after the coup was announced. Police shot at the soldiers and the crowd. At least two protesters were killed. The protesters continued to march, one telling the BBC this was a victory after weeks of protests. They reached the offices of the state broadcaster which was still in the control of soldiers loyal to the president.
Some reports say the loyalists and those supporting the coup are now in negotiations but this was denied by the presidency. BBC reporters in the capital say that protesters have broken into the national jail and have released detained demonstrators, before burning down the building. All international flights into and out of Bujumbura are currently cancelled.
Announcing the coup in a statement read to reporters in a military base, Gen Niyombare said he did not recognise the leadership because the president’s bid for a third term violated the constitution. In a radio broadcast on a private station, Gen Niyombare said: “The masses have decided to take into their own hands the destiny of the nation to remedy this unconstitutional environment into which Burundi has been plunged.
The masses vigorously and tenaciously reject President Nkurunziza’s third-term mandate… President Pierre Nkurunziza has been relieved of his duties. The government is overthrown.” He said the mission of the salvation committee was the “restoration of national unity… and the resumption of the electoral process in a peaceful and fair environment”. The unrest began on 26 April and has led to the deaths of more than 20 people. Tens of thousands of Burundians have fled to neighbouring states in recent weeks.
President Nkurunziza has rejected calls to postpone next month’s election. However, the summit in Tanzania urged him to do so. The 51-year-old former rebel leader argues that he is entitled to run for a third term because he was first appointed to the role by parliament in 2005. The constitution states a president should govern only for two terms, but earlier this month a court upheld Mr Nkurunziza’s interpretation.
Coup bid leader: Gen Godefroid Niyombare, 46
- Former rebel CNDD-FDD commander and ally of President Nkurunziza
- First ethnic Hutu army chief – a significant step in reconciliation efforts
- A negotiator in peace talks with last rebel group FNL
- Oversaw Burundi’s deployment to Somalia as part of African force
- Served as ambassador to Kenya
- Dismissed as intelligence chief in February three months after his appointment
- Dismissal came days after he recommended against the third-term bid