Uncertainty in Burundi after president ousted

People celebrate on the streets of Bujumbura after hearing that President Nkurunziza had been overthrown. Picture AFP/Getty
People celebrate on the streets of Bujumbura after hearing that President Nkurunziza had been overthrown. Picture AFP/Getty
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SPORADIC gunfire rang out in Burundi’s capital yesterday, the day after an army general ­announced he had ousted ­President Pierre Nkurunziza, whose decision to seek a third term in office had provoked street protests.

Explosions could be heard in central Bujumbura, while ­gunshots also rang out across the city.

Thousands took to the streets on Wednesday to celebrate after Major General Godefroid ­Niyombare announced on a ­private radio station that Mr Nkurunziza had been relieved of his duties.

Mr Nkurunziza was in neighbouring Tanzania for a summit on his country’s troubles at the time.

His whereabouts remained unclear yesterday, but the presidency said in a Twitter post that Mr Nkurunziza urged the country to remain calm amid the attempted coup, and said the situation was under control.

The military is divided between Nkurunziza loyalists and those who back Gen Niyombare, who had been fired in February as the country’s intelligence chief.

The army chief of staff, Major General Prime Niyongabo, said on state radio on Wednesday that he is “against Maj Gen ­Niyombare”.

A grenade attack on Wednesday night seriously damaged the building of private broadcaster Renaissance TV, where Maj Gen Niyombare made his coup statement, said the station’s director, Innocent Muhozi.

One of his offices was also burned overnight, he said. Police withdrew from the streets of ­Bujumbura after Mr Niyombare’s 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, whose office said in a statement posted on the president’s Twitter and Facebook accounts on Wednesday evening that the coup attempt was unsuccessful.

At least 15 people have been killed during protests since 26 April over Mr Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term.

During the unrest, the military acted as a buffer between police and protesters who said Mr Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term violated the Constitution and Arusha peace accords that ended a civil war.

The president of Tanzania, Jikaya Kiwkete, who chaired the summit there on Burundi’s crisis, said the regional leaders condemned the coup and called for a return to constitutional order.

The Constitution states that a president can be popularly elected for 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 for two terms.

On Wednesday, the US government 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.