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Burundi president appears in public for the first time since failed coup

Burundi's president, Pierre Nkurunziza, has appeared in public for the first time since a failed attempt to overthrow him. It followed weeks of violent protests after he announced he would stand in upcoming elections.

The president looked relaxed as he greeted journalists at the presidential palace in Burundi's capital, Bujumbura, on Sunday.

He gave a short speech to the crowd, without mentioning the attempted coup earlier in the week.

Instead Nkurunziza commented on alleged threats from the Somali-based, al Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militants, angry at Burundi and other African states for contributing troops to the African Union-led front in Somalia.

"We have taken measures against al-Shabab," he said. "We take this threat seriously."

The tiny African country has been rocked by weeks of violent demonstrations over Nkurunziza's decision to stand for a third consecutive term in office.

Though the nation's constitution bars leaders from serving more than two terms, the president has said he was not originally elected by popular vote but by parliament - meaning that his first term doesn't count.

During a visit by the president to neighboring Tanzania on Wednesday, top generals, led by Major General Godefroid Niyombare, launched an attempt to overthrow the government.

The country's main airport was also closed to prevent the president from re-entering Burundi.

But the rebels were forced to admit defeat on Friday, after fighting with loyalist troops and failing to take over the state broadcaster.

Upon his return on Friday, in a televised address Nkurunziza said there was now "peace in the whole country," and called for an end to the protest action.

'Pray for the people of Burundi'

On Saturday, 17 alleged coup plotters, including five generals, appeared before a state prosecutor on accusations of "attempting to overthrow the state."

Niyombare, the supposed leader, had said on Friday he would hand himself in, though his whereabouts remain unknown.

The failed takeover had sparked fears of a repeat of the violence seen during its recent civil war, with thousands of Burundians fleeing the country.

Civil society and opposition groups have warned they will resume street protests on Monday, after a pause over the weekend.

At least 20 people have died in the unrest, and hundreds more have been arrested.

As a precaution, European aid groups evacuated their foreign staff.

In Rome, the pope appealed for calm to be restored.

"I would like to invite you to pray for the dear people of Burundi," he said. "May the lord help all to avoid violence and act responsibly for the good of the country."

an/sms (dpa, AFP, AP)

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