Burundi coup bid: ‘Fierce fighting’ between rival troops

Burundi coup bid: ‘Fierce fighting’ between rival troops

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Burundi coup bid: ‘Fierce fighting’ between rival troops.

Rival groups of soldiers are fighting each other in Burundi’s capital amid confusion over the success of an attempted coup against the president.

Gunfire and explosions were heard near state radio and television overnight.

The army chief of staff says the coup by a former intelligence head has failed. But President Pierre Nkurunziza has been unable to return from Tanzania. His whereabouts are unknown.

The unrest began when Mr Nkurunziza announced he was seeking a third term.

Opponents say the bid contravenes the constitution. Mr Nkurunziza came to power in 2005.

What’s behind the coup bid?

The coup was announced by Maj Gen Godefroid Niyombare, a former intelligence chief and ally of the president, after Mr Nkurunziza left for Tanzania on Wednesday.

“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 in a radio broadcast.

Thousands of people took to the streets to celebrate the announcement, marching on the centre of the capital, Bujumbura, alongside soldiers and two tanks.

One protester told the BBC this was a victory after weeks of protests.

The presidency dismissed the coup attempt as “imaginary”.

And overnight, army chief of staff Gen Prime Niyongabo – a supporter of the president – announced: “The attempted coup… has been stopped.”

His comments came after holding a night of negotiations with the defence minister, who backs the coup, reports the BBC’s Maud Jullien from Bujumbura.

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Analysis: BBC Africa’s Venuste Nshimiyimana

The peace accord that brought an end to Burundi’s brutal 12-year ethnic civil war ensured that the future army would be split 50-50 between minority Tutsis and majority Hutus. This means that unlike the police, whose officers have been forceful in putting down the anti-third term protests, the army is regarded as a neutral force.

Nevertheless within the military there are internal divisions – with former Hutu rebels regarded as loyal to the ruling party and those in the old Tutsi-dominated army seen as loyal to the opposition.

The surprise about this coup declaration is that it comes from Gen Niyombare, once a close ally of the president. However, it is unclear whether the general, fired as intelligence chief in February, can command the loyalty of all soldiers.

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But there appears to be little sign of any agreement within the armed forces itself.

Factions loyal to each side reportedly began fighting each other for control of the national television and radio station.

Loud blasts and heavy gunfire rang out overnight.

Wednesday’s events unfolded after President Nkurunziza flew to the Tanzanian capital Dar es Salaam for a meeting with other East African leaders to discuss the crisis.

Officials there told the BBC that he flew back to Burundi upon learning of the coup.

But the airport and borders were ordered to be closed by Gen Niyombare, and so Mr Nkurunziza had to return to Dar es Salaam.

It is not clear if he remains there.

His fellow leaders at the summit in Tanzania condemned the coup.

The UN and US urged all sides to show restraint.

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 the country’s constitutional court upheld Mr Nkurunziza’s interpretation.

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Gen Godefroid Niyombare, 13 May
Gen Niyombare delivers his radio address to the nation

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

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