General Says Burundi Coup Underway, Prez Says No

Conflicting reports emerge as witnesses note gunfire in capital of Bujumbura
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 13, 2015 11:08 AM CDT
General Says Burundi Coup Underway, Prez Says No
In this June 24, 2010, file photo, Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza gestures to supporters during his electoral campaign in Gatumba.   (AP Photo/Marc Hofer, File)

As police in Bujumbura's main business district today tried to ward off street protesters with water cannons and tear gas—one cop even fired five times at demonstrators, an AP journalist on the scene says—a military general prepared to make an announcement in the Burundi capital: that President Pierre Nkurunziza, currently in Tanzania at a meeting specifically dealing with his country's current unrest, "is dismissed from his functions" in order to "preserve the country's integrity," the AP reports. Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare made this statement on a private radio station this morning, asserting that the president had acted unconstitutionally (and flouted peace accords ending Burundi's civil war years ago) by going for a third term in June; his nomination last month sparked the protests. Niyombare said he would set up a temporary committee, of which he would be president, to govern until the dust settles, the AP notes; protesters reportedly celebrated after the announcement.

But one of Nkurunziza's aides said claims about the coup were "a joke," and a tweet from the president's Twitter account says the coup has been foiled and that those responsible are being sought to be brought to justice. However, the BBC notes that witnesses are reporting forces supporting the overthrow are trying to push their way into the building where the state's broadcaster is housed, and a Western diplomat has told CNN that gunfire is ringing out through the city. The president reportedly canned Niyombare in February as the director of the country's intelligence agency, the AP notes. As for his term limits, Nkurunziza has claimed he can run for a third term because the country's constitution says a president can be picked by popular election to two five-year terms—he's nearing the end of his second term, but he was elected by the Burundi parliament for the first term. (More Burundi stories.)

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