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Fighting rages in Burundi day after attempted coup

A Burundian police officer holding a baton and army forces run after protestors throwing stones during a demonstration against incumbent president Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term on May 13, 2015 in Bujumbura
A Burundian police officer holding a baton and army forces run after protestors throwing stones during a demonstration against incumbent president Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term on May 13, 2015 in Bujumbura AFP / Jennifer Huxta

Gunfire again erupted on the streets of the Burundi capital Bujumbura Thursday a day after a top army official claimed he carried out a coup against President Pierre Nkurunziza, creating uncertainty over who holds power in the African nation.

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Military sources and witnesses told AFP troops loyal to the president, who was outside the country when the coup was launched, were fighting off an attack on the state television and radio complex.

Witnesses reported hearing heavy gunfire emanating from the complex as well as sporadic fire and loud blasts coming from across the capital on Thursday morning.

According to a pro-coup military source, the state media complex was attacked in the early hours of the morning after Burundi’s armed forces chief used national radio to declare that the coup, launched by former intelligence chief General Godefroid Niyombare, had failed.

“The coup attempt failed, loyal forces are still controlling all strategic points,” army chief of staff General Prime Niyongabo said in the broadcast.

However a spokesman for the anti-Nkurunziza camp, Burundi’s police commissioner Venon Ndabaneze, told AFP the claim was false and that General Niyombare’s supporters were in control of many facilities including Bujumbura’s international airport.

A Reuters witness reported that two private radio stations and a television station were also attacked by unknown men in police uniforms onThursday. The two stations were among those that carried General Niyombare’s announcement on Wednesday that he had sacked Nkurunziza following weeks of violent protests against the president’s bid to secure an unconstitutional third term in office.

With President Nkurunziza having gone to Tanzania to discuss the crisis with East African leaders on Wednesday, the presidency dismissed the declaration by Niyombare, who was fired as Nkurunziza’s intelligence chief in February, saying on Facebook that the coup had been “foiled”.

President’s whereabouts unknown

Late on Wednesday night, Nkurunziza’s whereabouts were unclear.

A Tanzanian official said he had not attended the talks in Dar es Salaam, and had left to return to Burundi. But Niyombare said the capital’s airport and all border crossings were closed.

The East African leaders condemned the bid to oust him and called for a return to “constitutional order”.

Late on Wednesday, continental body the African Union condemned the attempted coup.

“The chairperson condemns in the strongest terms today’s coup attempt in Bujumbura, calls for the return to constitutional order and urges all stakeholders to exercise utmost restraint," AU Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said in a statement.

Activists say more than 20 people have been killed in weeks of protests against Nkurunziza’s re-election bid, plunging Burundi into its worst crisis since an ethnically fuelled civil war ended in 2005.

Opposition and rights groups insist that it is unconstitutional for Nkurunziza, who has been in office since 2005, to run for more than two terms. The president, however, argues his first term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people.

In his message announcing the coup, Niyombare signalled he did not want to take power himself, vowing to form a “committee for the restoration of national harmony” and work for “the resumption of the electoral process in a peaceful and fair environment”.

The United Nations said more than 70,000 Burundians had fled to neighbouring states in a region with a history of ethnic fighting.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP, REUTERS)

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