Gunfire and explosions rang out Thursday as military forces backing an attempted coup against President Pierre Nkurunziza battled troops loyal to him over key sites in Burundi’s capital, while his office reported he had returned to the country.
BUJUMBURA, Burundi — Gunfire and explosions rang out Thursday as military forces backing an attempted coup against President Pierre Nkurunziza battled troops loyal to him over key sites in Burundi’s capital, while his office reported he had returned to the country.
Weeks of turmoil in this impoverished Central African country boiled over Wednesday when an army general announced that Nkurunziza was being ousted.
The president was in Tanzania at the time for a meeting with regional leaders about the political crisis. Late Thursday, his office announced on Twitter that Nkurunziza was back in Burundi, although the report could not be independently verified.
The report also said Nkurunziza saluted the patriotism of the police and the patience of the Burundian people. His office had earlier said he had urged calm and said the situation was under control.
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Shooting and explosions could be heard in central Bujumbura as loyalist troops guarding the national broadcaster RTNB exchanged fire with forces believed to support Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare, the senior army officer leading the coup attempt.
The RTNB building and its surroundings were under attack for about 25 minutes, presidential communication adviser Willy Nyamitwe said on Twitter. State radio was playing music after going briefly off the air amid the fighting.
After one of the clashes, the body of one of the soldiers who supported the coup lay on the edge of a road near the state radio station as troops loyal to Nkurunziza looked on. Police patrolled a deserted major road and some civilians walked timidly down another street, carrying a cross to show neutrality.
The military is divided between supporters of Nkurunziza and Niyombare, who was fired in February as intelligence chief. The army chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Prime Niyongabo, said on state radio late Wednesday that he was against Niyombare.
Police withdrew from the streets of Bujumbura after Niyombare’s coup statement, and people thronged Bujumbura’s streets and applauded soldiers who rode by in tanks and trucks.
At least 15 people have been killed in demonstrations since April 26 over Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term. Protesters say his candidacy violated the Constitution as well as peace accords that ended a civil war.
Following an emergency meeting Thursday, the African Union Peace and Security Council condemned any attempts to seize power through violence in Burundi and urged talks between the warring factions.
The U.N. Security Council and Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned leaders of the attempted coup for trying to oust the elected government.