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Burundi coup leaders in court; protesters keep fighting

Alleged coup plotters have appeared before a judge in Burundi. The court appearances came a day after the failure of an attempt to overthrow the country's president.

The 17 alleged plotters who appeared before the high court in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, included General Cyrille Ndayirukiye and top police commissioners Zenon Ndabaneze and Hermenegilde Nimenya, lawyer Anatole Miburo said. Coup leader and former intelligence chief Godefroid Niyombare remained at large.

Miburo said agents assaulted the men after their arrest on Friday, two days after Niyombare launched the bid to overthrow the president. The government reportedly made dozens of arrests on Friday.

"They were seriously beaten, in particular General Ndayirukiye," Miburo said on Saturday.

Protests began in April, after President Pierre Nkurunziza, who took office in 2005, announced his plan to run for five more years in the June 26 election, a move opposition members say violates the constitution's two-term limit. However, the country's high court approved the bid, ruling that in his first term Nkurunziza was appointed by parliament and not elected, so he would not violate the limit by running again. Later, a top justice fled the country and claimed that the court had been coerced.

Twenty people have died in the protests since April. Nearly 105,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries to escape the violence, according to the United Nations.

The defendants had allegedly launched the coup on Wednesday, while the president was attending a conference about his announced third term in Dar es Salaam, the capital of Tanzania.

'From my heart'

On Saturday, up to 100 demonstrators took to the streets in Bujumbura's Musaga and Nyabikaga neighborhoods to protest Nkurunziza's bid.

On Friday, Nkurunziza announced that "there is peace in the whole country," that Burundi had reopened its borders, and that Bujumbura's airport was once again up and running. He also called for an end to the protests against him, linking demonstrators with those who tried to unseat him.

"On the occasion of this memorable day, we want to thank from my heart the forces of defense and security," Nkurunziza said. "It is obvious that the current upheavals are related to the group that wanted to overthrow government institutions," the president added, demanding that the protesters, whom he has previously called "terrorists," stop their demonstrations immediately.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has announced plans to speak with Nkurunziza soon in an effort to resolve the standoff without further bloodshed. US officials, on the other hand, called on Nkurunziza to abandon the presidential race, saying it would "exacerbate" the situation and create a "potential for further violence," though the they maintained that they recognize Nkurunziza's legitimacy as leader.

mkg/sms (Reuters, AFP, dpa, AP)

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