A group led by a former general has claimed a coup in Burundi. However, the head of the country's armed forces has said President Nkurunziza is still in control, despite being out of the country at an unknown location.
Citizens in Burundi woke up on Thursday to conflicting information regarding the leadership of their country. Overnight, the head of the country's armed forces, Prime Niyongabo, announced on state radio that a coup attempt by Godefroid Niyombare - the former intelligence chief - had failed.
However, Niyombare's camp denied these claims on Thursday and said they were in control of government facilities including the international airport in the capital, Bujumbura.
Niyombare's coup attempt stems from an announcement by President Pierre Nkurunziza that he would run for a third term in next month's elections. Niyombare claimed on Tuesday that this violates the national constitution and the Arusha peace accords.
Protests have been taking place in Burundi against Nkurunziza's announcement since he made it earlier this month, and this week the president traveled to a conference of the East African Community in Tanzania to discuss the unrest in his country with other regional leaders.
During his absence, Niyombare declared that the president had been removed from office. The president's office responded that it considered Niyombare's claim a joke. Nkurunziza's current whereabouts remain unknown.
Amid the uncertainty about the coup, clashes between security forces and demonstrators have raised fears of a return to violence in Burundi, which has yet to fully recover from a brutal 13-year civil war that ended in 2006. The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) reports that 20 people have been killed and 200 have been wounded since Nkurunziza's April 26 nomination for a third term, and that 70,000 people have fled the country. Gunfire was reported in Bujumbura on Thursday.
World leaders have pressured Nkurunziza, a former rebel from Burundi's Hutu majority, to withdraw from the election. On Wednesday, the European Union's foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, said "we expect all actors in Burundi to show restraint, avoid violence and take all steps in their power to ensure that the human rights of all Burundians are guaranteed."
Similar calls were made by the East African Community and the US State Department.
mz/msh (Reuters, AFP)