With a coup apparently averted, Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza has fired top ministers in a surprise move. And, according to the government, anyone who demonstrated against him is being seen as an accomplice.
Embattled Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza sacked his defense and foreign ministers on Monday, five days after surviving an attempted coup by generals opposed to his bid for a third term in office.
Neither he nor his office offered any reasons for the dismissals.
"President does not have to explain," one of his spokesmen said when asked by Reuters. "Constitution gives him powers to [do] so."
The sackings are the first sign of infighting within Nkurunziza's administration after the coup attempt, which has intensified fears that Burundi could be faced with protracted political conflict - in a region familiar with ethnic strife.
In 2005, at least 300,000 people died in a Burundian civil war. Fellow Great Lakes region neighbor Rwanda, which shares a similar ethnic mix between a Hutu majority and Tutsi minority, is still recovering from a 1994 genocide in which over 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis, were massacred within 90 days.
Protesters to be viewed as accomplices
Political division in Burundi exists not only within Nkurunziza's government, however; tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in the capital and elsewhere last week to oppose his plans to run for a third term in office.
According to Reuters, demonstrators against Nkurunziza are to be treated as accomplices of the generals who staged last week's failed coup, the foreign ministry said on its website on Monday, in an ominous warning to anti-government street protesters. Small groups of Burundians resumed their anti-Nkurunziza chanting and singing on Monday for the first time since the May 14 uprising.
The constitution and a peace deal that ended the civil war both specify a two-term presidential limit. Nkurunziza's attempt at a third term is based on a court ruling that said his first term did not count because he was appointed by parliament - and not elected by the people.
On Sunday, Nkurunziza appeared publicly for the first time since the coup, sending a clear message that he intended to remain in charge. Dressed in a blue blazer and polo shirt, the president made no mention of the recent uprising, opting instead to speak of external threats like the Somali group al-Shabab, which has carried out terror attacks in other East African nations, including Kenya.
Al-Shabab later dismissed those allegations of involvement in Burundi, writing in a statement that what Nkurunziza had said was "dumbfounding" and that the turmoil in his country was "clearly domestic."
Meanwhile, protesters in Burundi have vowed to retake the streets, but Interior Minister Edouard Nduwimana called on the opposition to stay home. He said security forces might not differentiate between demonstrators and "extremists."
During the coup, loyalist troops forced independent radio off the air, and the opposition accuses Nkurunziza of repressing dissidents and media. The head of RPA ('Radio Publique Africaine' or African Public Radio) has since fled the country.
glb/msh (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)