Coup protest as Burundi police stay away

Police vanished from the streets of Burundi’s capital as thousands of people celebrated a coup attempt against president Pierre Nkurunziza, who was in a neighbouring country for a conference.

During almost three weeks of unrest in which 15 people were killed, the military has been acting as buffer between police and protesters who oppose Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term, saying it violates the constitution and Arusha peace accords that ended a civil war here.

An army general said on a private radio station that Nkurunziza’s mandate is over. However, whether the general had the support of the military was unclear.

Nkurunziza is in the neighbouring country of Tanzania for a summit to end the unrest. Before the radio announcement, protesters were in Bujumbura’s streets. In some neighbourhoods, they battled past police in an effort to reach the downtown area. One policeman was seen opening fire on protesters. Army troops surrounded state radio but it was not immediately clear to whom they were loyal.

Major General Godefroid Niyombare read a statement on Bonesha FM radio, saying the president had violated the constitution and the Arusha peace accords by seeking a third term in June elections.

“Given the necessity to preserve the country’s integrity ... president Pierre Nkurunziza is dismissed from his functions,” Niyombare said.

The general announced the creation of a temporary ruling committee to re-establish stability of which he is the president. Soon after, the police melted away and people thronged the streets in celebration.

In February, Nkurunziza fired Niyombare as the director of the national intelligence service, replacing him days later with Brigadier Etienne Ntakirutimana, according to Burundi’s presidency.

Yesterday morning, before Niyombare made his announcement, police fired tear gas and water cannons to repulse protesters trying to enter Bujumbura’s central business district.

A group of women protesters managed to infiltrate the police cordon and entered the central business district.

Nkurunziza has joined other east African leaders from Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in Tanzania for a special meeting to discuss the turmoil in Burundi.


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