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Burundi army divided after coup attempt

14 May 2015, 08:00

Bujumbura - Burundi's armed forces chief announced Thursday that an attempted coup against President Pierre Nkurunziza had failed, although the claim was quickly denied by opponents of the central African nation's leader.

There was also uncertainty over the whereabouts of Nkurunziza, whose attempt to return home from Tanzania after the coup was announced was blocked after his opponents seized the airport.

A top Burundian general, former intelligence chief Godefroid Niyombare, launched the coup on Wednesday, capping weeks of violent protests against the president's controversial bid for a third term.

The general has ordered the closure of Bujumbura airport and the landlocked nation's borders, and declared he had the support of "many" high-ranking army and police officials.

Hundreds of people took to the streets in celebration after the coup announcement, shouting "Victory!" and sounding car horns. Cheering crowds were also seen walking alongside marching soldiers and climbing aboard tanks in the lakeside capital.

But in an overnight broadcast on state radio, armed forces chief General Prime Niyongabo said the coup had been stopped and that pro-Nkurunziza forces controlled the presidential office and palace.

‘Give themselves up’

"The national defence force calls on the mutineers to give themselves up," he added on state radio, also under the control of forces loyal to the president - who have fired warning shots to keep back protestors.

Also read: U.S. State Department says watching Burundi

However a spokesperson for the anti-Nkurunziza camp, Burundi's police commissioner Venon Ndabaneze, told AFP the claim was false and that his side was in control of facilities including Bujumbura's international airport.

"This message does not surprise us because the general has long been allied to the forces of evil and lies," he said.

The latest radio announcement and the denial signal that the outcome of the coup attempt remains uncertain. Overnight negotiations within the armed forces - which appeared sharply divided over the issue - may have failed.

The crisis has raised fears of a return to widespread violence in the impoverished country, which is still recovering from a brutal 13-year civil war that ended in 2006.

Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the conflict, marked by massacres between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi communities.

Speaking late Wednesday to France24, General Niyombare said there was still "some confusion" and that "things will become clear" on Thursday.



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