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Burundi coup general closes airport as president flies home

A top Burundian general who claimed to have dismissed President Pierre Nkurunziza has ordered the closure of the capital's main airport. The order came as the president tried to fly home from neighboring Tanzania.

Major General Godefroid Niyombare on Wednesday ordered the closure of Bujumbura airport, as well as land borders.

"I order the closure of the airport and border, and I ask every citizen and law enforcement down to the airport to protect it," Niyombare said in a radio broadcast.

The news came as Nkurunziza was said to be returning home from a

conference in neighboring Tanzania

, where African leaders were meeting to discuss the

ongoing constitutional crisis

in Burundi.

Niyombare had earlier

said the president had been deposed

after he violated the national constitution and a group of peace accords by

seeking a third term

in June elections.

"Given the necessity to preserve the country's integrity ... the president, Pierre Nkurunziza, is dismissed from his functions," Niyombare said in a statement on Bonesha FM radio.

Committee for stability

Niyombare told reporters he was working with civil society groups, religious leaders and politicians to form a transitional government, after dismissing the president. The general said he himself would preside over a committee to re-establish stability.

Cheering and singing people streamed onto the streets of the Burundian capital after the announcement.

However, the veracity of Niyombare's comments and the extent to which he was backed by the military was called into question.

'Too early to say'

The presidential office swiftly dismissed as "a joke" the statement by Niyombare, who was fired by Nkurunziza as intelligence chief in February.

A spokesman for the South African Foreign Ministry said it was "way too early" to determine whether a coup had actually taken place.

Niyombare, who is also a former ambassador to Kenya, was surrounded by several other senior army and police officials, including a former defense minister, when he made the statement.

rc/kms (Reuters, dpa, AFP, AP)

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