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Burundi power struggle risks plunging country back into civil war

Published 14/05/2015

Demonstrators face off with riot police in the Musaga district of Bujumbura, Burundi (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Demonstrators face off with riot police in the Musaga district of Bujumbura, Burundi (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

Burundi is sliding back towards all-out conflict after a military coup and fierce fightback from forces loyal to President Pierre Nkurunziza.

The capital, Bujumbura, was the scene of fierce fighting as loyalist forces battled to retain control of key institutions – particularly the state television and radio complex – from pro-coup forces.

By nightfall, it remained unclear who, if anyone, was in charge. The streets were all but deserted.

Analysts warned that the longer the impasse continues, the greater the likelihood that the country will be plunged into a civil war, potentially drawing in neighbouring countries, such as Rwanda.

Burundi’s ethnically-charged civil war, in which 300,000 Burundians lost their lives and which helped spark the 1994 genocide of Tutsis in Rwanda, ended in 2005 and remains a bitter memory.

Mr Nkurunziza, who triggered the current show-down with his bid for a third presidential term in breach of the constitution, remained barred from returning to the central African nation after the coup leaders closed the borders while he was in Tanzania for an emergency summit to discuss the crisis.

But unconfirmed reports indicated loyalist troops later retook the airport, paving the way for his return.

While his exact whereabouts remained a secret, he was able to relay a message via national radio denouncing the coup and offering forgiveness to those soldiers who surrendered, only for the station to go off the air a short while later. The station, a potent symbol of power in the country, soon resumed broadcasts, and insisted it was still in the hands of troops loyal to the president. “We had stopped broadcasting for several minutes because there was heavy fighting,” the broadcast said. “The fighting is over and we are resuming our broadcast.”

A spokesman for General Godefroide Niyombare, the army officer who launched the coup on Wednesday in the president’s absence and who has not been heard from since, insisted that the capital remained in the hands of General Niyombare’s supporters. “We control virtually the entire city. The soldiers who are being deployed are on our side,” Venon Ndabaneze told Agence France Presse.

The military, split now into two rival factions, has been viewed as an impartial observer in the two weeks of demonstrations that followed the president’s decision to stand, and news of the coup was initially greeted with jubilation by many in the capital. At least 15 people have been killed in the protests. The constitution limits a president to two terms, but Mr Nkurunziza, a Hutu and former rebel leader, has argued that his first term does not count because he was chosen by parliament, not the people. The US State Department said it still recognised Mr Nkurunziza as the president.

A Burundian police officer holding a baton and army forces run after protestors throwing stones during a demonstration against incumbent president Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term on May 13, 2015 in Bujumbura. AFP/Getty Images
A Burundian police officer holding a baton and army forces run after protestors throwing stones during a demonstration against incumbent president Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term on May 13, 2015 in Bujumbura. AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators take part in a protest in Bujumbura on May 13, 2015. AFP/Getty Images
Demonstrators chant anti government slogans in front of riot police in Bujumbura, Burundi, Thursday April 30, 2015. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
TOPSHOTS People walk past a burning barricade on a street in Bujumbura on May 14, 2015 after a night marked by gunfire and explosions in various areas of the capital. Heavy fighting broke out between rival Burundian troops around the state broadcaster, military officials and witnesses said, the day after a top general launched a coup to oust President Pierre Nkurunziza. A top Burundian general, former intelligence chief Godefroid Niyombare, launched the coup on May 13, capping weeks of violent protests against the president's controversial bid for a third term. AFP PHOTO / JENNIFER HUXTAJennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOTS A man celebrates, as people take the streets, waving branches, beeping car horns and parading through Bujumbura on May 13, 2015 following the radio announcement by Major General Godefroid Niyombare that President Nkurunziza was overthrown. Burundi's presidency said an attempted coup by a top general had "failed" on May 13 and pro-president Burundi troops at state broadcaster fire warning shots over the heads of hundreds of protesters. President Pierre Nkurunziza flies home to Burundi on May 13 hours after an army officer announced a coup while he was attending a regional crisis meeting in neighbouring Tanzania. AFP PHOTO / JENNIFER HUXTAJennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOTS People burn mattresses looted from the local police post on 13 May in Musaga neighborhood in Bujumbura, during a protest against incumbent president Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a 3rd term. Hundreds of people in the neighborhood of Musaga waved sticks and threw stones as police responded with tear gas, a water cannon and live rounds. Protestors looted the local police post in Musaga, burning furniture, mattresses and clothing in a barricade fire, an AFP photographer said. Burundi's presidency said an attempted coup by a top general had "failed" on May 13, 2015 and pro-president Burundi troops at state broadcaster fire warning shots over the heads of hundreds of protesters. Burundian general Godefroid Niyombare on May 13 announced the overthrow of President Pierre Nkurunziza, hours after President Nkurunziza travelled to Tanzania to meet regional leaders on the political crisis in his country. AFP PHOTO / JENNIFER HUXTAJennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOTS Burundi's policemen and army forces face protestors during a demonstration against incumbent president Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a 3rd term on 13 May 2015 in Bujumbura. In the neighborhood of Musaga, hundreds of people waved sticks and threw stones as police responded with tear gas, a water cannon and live rounds. Protestors looted the local police post in Musaga, burning furniture, mattresses and clothing in a barricade fire, an AFP photographer said. Burundi's presidency said an attempted coup by a top general had "failed" on May 13, 2015 and pro-president Burundi troops at state broadcaster fire warning shots over the heads of hundreds of protesters, an AFP reporter said. Burundian general Godefroid Niyombare on May 13 announced the overthrow of President Pierre Nkurunziza, following weeks of violent protests against the president's bid to stand for a third term. AFP PHOTO / JENNIFER HUXTAJennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOTS Demonstrators take part in a protest in Bujumbura on May 13, 2015. A top Burundian general announced today the overthrow of President Pierre Nkurunziza, following weeks of violent protests against the president's bid to stand for a third term. AFP PHOTO / LANDRY NSHIMIYELANDRY NSHIMIYE/AFP/Getty Images
TOPSHOTS A man is lifted by police during a protest in Bujumbura on May 13, 2015. A top Burundian general announced today the overthrow of President Pierre Nkurunziza, following weeks of violent protests against the president's bid to stand for a third term. AFP PHOTO / LANDRY NSHIMIYELANDRY NSHIMIYE/AFP/Getty Images
People walk past a burning barricade on a street in Bujumbura on May 14, 2015 after a night marked by gunfire and explosions in various areas of the capital. Heavy fighting broke out between rival Burundian troops around the state broadcaster, military officials and witnesses said, the day after a top general launched a coup to oust President Pierre Nkurunziza. A top Burundian general, former intelligence chief Godefroid Niyombare, launched the coup on May 13, capping weeks of violent protests against the president's controversial bid for a third term. AFP PHOTO / JENNIFER HUXTAJennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images
People walrun for cover as gunfire erupts on a main street leading to the centre of Bujumbura on May 14, 2015 after a night marked by gunfire and explosions in various areas of the capital. Heavy fighting broke out between rival Burundian troops around the state broadcaster, military officials and witnesses said, the day after a top general launched a coup to oust President Pierre Nkurunziza. A top Burundian general, former intelligence chief Godefroid Niyombare, launched the coup on May 13, capping weeks of violent protests against the president's controversial bid for a third term. AFP PHOTO / JENNIFER HUXTAJennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images
Smoke rises from several buildings near the port in Bujumbura on May 14, 2015 after a night marked by gunfire and explosions in various areas of the capital. Heavy fighting broke out between rival Burundian troops around the state broadcaster, military officials and witnesses said, the day after a top general launched a coup to oust President Pierre Nkurunziza. A top Burundian general, former intelligence chief Godefroid Niyombare, launched the coup on May 13, capping weeks of violent protests against the president's controversial bid for a third term. AFP PHOTO / JENNIFER HUXTAJennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images
Smoke rises from several buildings near the port in Bujumbura on May 14, 2015 after a night marked by gunfire and explosions in various areas of the capital. Heavy fighting broke out between rival Burundian troops around the state broadcaster, military officials and witnesses said, the day after a top general launched a coup to oust President Pierre Nkurunziza. A top Burundian general, former intelligence chief Godefroid Niyombare, launched the coup on May 13, capping weeks of violent protests against the president's controversial bid for a third term. AFP PHOTO / JENNIFER HUXTAJennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images
QUALITY REPEAT People waving branches as they celebrate in the streets of Bujumbura on May 13, 2015 following the radio announcement by Major General Godefroid Niyombare that President Nkurunziza was overthrown. Burundi's presidency said an attempted coup by a top general had "failed" on May 13 and pro-president Burundi troops at state broadcaster fire warning shots over the heads of hundreds of protesters. Nkurunziza flies home to Burundi on May 13 hours after an army officer announced a coup while he was attending a regional crisis meeting in neighbouring Tanzania. AFP PHOTO / JENNIFER HUXTAJennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images
People demonstrate on 13 May, 2015 in Bujumbura, during a protest against incumbent president Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a 3rd term. Protestors looted the local police post in Musaga, burning furniture, mattresses and clothing in a barricade fire, an AFP photographer said. Burundi's presidency said an attempted coup by a top general had "failed" on May 13, 2015 and pro-president Burundi troops at state broadcaster fire warning shots over the heads of hundreds of protesters. Nkurunziza, who was attending a regional crisis meeting in neighbouring Tanzania, flies home to Burundi on May 13 hours after Burundian general Godefroid Niyombare announced a coup. AFP PHOTO / JENNIFER HUXTAJennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images
A man holding a gun taken from a police officer and a man holding a molotov cocktail gesture in Musaga after heavy clashes with police on 13 May, 2015 in Musaga neighborhood in Bujumbura, during a protest against incumbent president Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a 3rd term. Protestors looted the local police post in Musaga, burning furniture, mattresses and clothing in a barricade fire, an AFP photographer said. Burundi's presidency said an attempted coup by a top general had "failed" on May 13, 2015 and pro-president Burundi troops at state broadcaster fire warning shots over the heads of hundreds of protesters. Nkurunziza, who was attending a regional crisis meeting in neighbouring Tanzania, flies home to Burundi on May 13 hours after Burundian general Godefroid Niyombare announced a coup. AFP PHOTO / JENNIFER HUXTAJennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images
A serviceman stands on top of a tank as people take to the streets to celebrate, waving branches, beeping car horns and parading through Bujumbura on May 13, 2015 following the radio announcement by Major General Godefroid Niyombare that President Nkurunziza was overthrown. Burundi's presidency said an attempted coup by a top general had "failed" on May 13 and pro-president Burundi troops at state broadcaster fire warning shots over the heads of hundreds of protesters. President Pierre Nkurunziza flies home to Burundi on May 13, hours after an army officer announced a coup while he was attending a regional crisis meeting in neighbouring Tanzania. AFP PHOTO / JENNIFER HUXTAJennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images
A man holding a Burundi's flag stands on a tank as people take to the streets to celebrate, waving branches, beeping car horns and parading through Bujumbura on May 13, 2015 following the radio announcement by Major General Godefroid Niyombare that President Nkurunziza was overthrown. Burundi's presidency said an attempted coup by a top general had "failed" on May 13 and pro-president Burundi troops at state broadcaster fire warning shots over the heads of hundreds of protesters. President Pierre Nkurunziza flies home to Burundi on May 13, hours after an army officer announced a coup while he was attending a regional crisis meeting in neighbouring Tanzania. AFP PHOTO / JENNIFER HUXTAJennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images
Men on a vehicle celebrate as people take the streets, waving branches, beeping car horns and parading through Bujumbura on May 13, 2015 following the radio announcement by Major General Godefroid Niyombare that President Nkurunziza was overthrown. Burundi's presidency said an attempted coup by a top general had "failed" on May 13 and pro-president Burundi troops at state broadcaster fire warning shots over the heads of hundreds of protesters. President Pierre Nkurunziza flies home to Burundi on May 13 hours after an army officer announced a coup while he was attending a regional crisis meeting in neighbouring Tanzania. AFP PHOTO / JENNIFER HUXTAJennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images
People burn mattresses looted from the local police post on 13 May in Musaga neighborhood in Bujumbura, during a protest against incumbent president Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a 3rd term. Hundreds of people in the neighborhood of Musaga waved sticks and threw stones as police responded with tear gas, a water cannon and live rounds. Protestors looted the local police post in Musaga, burning furniture, mattresses and clothing in a barricade fire, an AFP photographer said. Burundi's presidency said an attempted coup by a top general had "failed" on May 13, 2015 and pro-president Burundi troops at state broadcaster fire warning shots over the heads of hundreds of protesters. Burundian general Godefroid Niyombare on May 13 announced the overthrow of President Pierre Nkurunziza, hours after President Nkurunziza travelled to Tanzania to meet regional leaders on the political crisis in his country. AFP PHOTO / JENNIFER HUXTAJennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images
Protestors run from gunfire and tear gas in Bujumbura, on 13 May 2015 during a demonstration against incumbent president Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a 3rd term. Hundreds of people in the neighborhood of Musaga waved sticks and threw stones as police responded with tear gas, a water cannon and live rounds. Protestors looted the local police post in Musaga, burning furniture, mattresses and clothing in a barricade fire, an AFP photographer said. Burundi's presidency said an attempted coup by a top general had "failed" on May 13, 2015 and pro-president Burundi troops at state broadcaster fire warning shots over the heads of hundreds of protesters. Burundian general Godefroid Niyombare on May 13 announced the overthrow of President Pierre Nkurunziza, hours after President Nkurunziza travelled to Tanzania to meet regional leaders on the political crisis in his country. AFP PHOTO / JENNIFER HUXTAJennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images
A man holding up a branch runs past a fire burning as people loot a local police station in the the Buyenzi neighborhood of Bujumbura on May 13, 2015, after an attempted coup against the Burundian president. A top Burundian general launched a coup attempt against President Pierre Nkurunziza on May 13, after weeks of violent protests against the president's bid to stand for a third term. AFP PHOTO / LANDRY NSHIMIYELANDRY NSHIMIYE/AFP/Getty Images
An anti-riot truck drives in Bujumbura, on 13 May 2015 during a demonstration against incumbent president Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a 3rd term. Hundreds of people in the neighborhood of Musaga waved sticks and threw stones as police responded with tear gas, a water cannon and live rounds. Protestors looted the local police post in Musaga, burning furniture, mattresses and clothing in a barricade fire, an AFP photographer said. Burundi's presidency said an attempted coup by a top general had "failed" on May 13, 2015 and pro-president Burundi troops at state broadcaster fire warning shots over the heads of hundreds of protesters. Burundian general Godefroid Niyombare on May 13 announced the overthrow of President Pierre Nkurunziza, hours after President Nkurunziza travelled to Tanzania to meet regional leaders on the political crisis in his country. AFP PHOTO / JENNIFER HUXTAJennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images
Anti-riot policemen face protestors during a demonstration in Musaga neighborhood in Bujumbura, on 13 May 2015 against incumbent president Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a 3rd term. Hundreds of people in the neighborhood of Musaga waved sticks and threw stones as police responded with tear gas, a water cannon and live rounds. Protestors looted the local police post in Musaga, burning furniture, mattresses and clothing in a barricade fire, an AFP photographer said. Burundi's presidency said an attempted coup by a top general had "failed" on May 13, 2015 and pro-president Burundi troops at state broadcaster fire warning shots over the heads of hundreds of protesters. Burundian general Godefroid Niyombare on May 13 announced the overthrow of President Pierre Nkurunziza, hours after President Nkurunziza travelled to Tanzania to meet regional leaders on the political crisis in his country. AFP PHOTO / JENNIFER HUXTAJennifer Huxta/AFP/Getty Images
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY STEPHANIE AGLIETTI A Burundian refugee plays on May 9, 2015 at the Gashora refugee camp in the Bugesera district of Rwanda. Exhausted and terrified, the refugees from Burundi keep coming, with tens of thousands fleeing political violence and targeted attacks by the ruling party's youth wing militia. Some refugees say they are running from the Imbonerakure, a fearsome militia, whose name means "The Watchmen" or, literally, "Those Who See Far". The militia acts in support of President Pierre Nkurunziza whose third term bid has triggered weeks of sometimes violent protests in the capital, Bujumbura. AFP PHOTO / STEPHANIE AGLIETTISTEPHANIE AGLIETTI/AFP/Getty Images
TO GO WITH AFP STORY BY STEPHANIE AGLIETTI Burundian refugees wash clothes on May 9, 2015 at a temporary shelter at the Gashora refugee camp in the Bugesera district of Rwanda. Exhausted and terrified, the refugees from Burundi keep coming, with tens of thousands fleeing political violence and targeted attacks by the ruling party's youth wing militia. Some refugees say they are running from the Imbonerakure, a fearsome militia, whose name means "The Watchmen" or, literally, "Those Who See Far". The militia acts in support of President Pierre Nkurunziza whose third term bid has triggered weeks of sometimes violent protests in the capital, Bujumbura. AFP PHOTO / STEPHANIE AGLIETTISTEPHANIE AGLIETTI/AFP/Getty Images
A demonstrator holds up her fists as a group of women demonstrate in Bujumbura on May 10, 2015. A small, peaceful rally was held in the city centre for the first time on May 10 as hundreds of women gathered outside the interior ministry to call for "peace and unity". At least 18 people have been killed, among them police officers and protestors, since April 26 when President Pierre Nkurunziza declared his intention to run for a third term in elections scheduled for next month. AFP PHOTO / LANDRY NSHIMIYELANDRY NSHIMIYE/AFP/Getty Images
Women talk to a police officer as they march during a peaceful demonstration in Bujumbura on May 10, 2015. A small, peaceful rally was held in the city centre for the first time on May 10 when hundreds of women gathered outside the interior ministry to call for "peace and unity". Burundi's security forces began clearing barricades in the capital Bujumbura on May 10 after the government ordered an immediate end to protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza's controversial bid for a third term. AFP PHOTO / AYMERIC VINCENOTAYMERIC VINCENOT/AFP/Getty Images
Jean Claude Niyonzima, a suspected member of the ruling party's Imbonerakure youth militia, pleads with soldiers to protect him from a mob of demonstrators after he came out of hiding in a sewer in the Cibitoke district of Bujumbura, Burundi, Thursday May 7, 2015. Niyonzima fled from his house into the sewer under a hail of stones thrown by a mob protesting President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to seek a third term in office. At least one protestor has died in clashed with the widely feared Imbonerakure militias and police, sending scores to the streets seeking revenge. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
A demonstrator seem to be dressed as trees as he walks with others to a barricade in the Musaga district of Bujumbura, Burundi, Wednesday May 6, 2015. On Tuesday some protesters made hats out of branches, which seems to have progressed on Wednesday to this more elaborate millinery style adopted by some protesters, without any explanation for the fashion. Anti-government demonstrations continue Wednesday and protesters regularly set road blocks in Burundi's capital after the constitutional court validated President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to seek a third term in office. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
A Demonstrator blows his whistle in the Kanyosha district of Bujumbura, Burundi, Wednesday May 6, 2015. Anti-government demonstrations continue Wednesday and protesters regularly set road blocks in Burundi's capital after the constitutional court validated President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to seek a third term in office.(AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
A demonstrator trying to march to the town center is arrested by police, in the Ngagara district of Bujumbura, Burundi Wednesday, May 13, 2015. A police officer opened fire at protesters in Burundi's capital Wednesday as demonstrations against the president's bid for a third term heated up, with troops surrounding the national radio station. (AP Photo/Gildas Ngingo)
A police officer keeps an eye on demonstrators as a water canon clears barricades in the Nyakabyga district of Bujumbura, Burundi, Friday, May 8, 2015. President Pierre Nkurunziza's officially filed to become a candidate for a potential third term in office. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Soldiers lift a wounded suspected Imbonerakure militiaman who was attacked by demonstrators protesting against President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to seek a third term in office in the Cibitoke district of Bujumbura, Burundi, Thursday May 7, 2015. They dispersed the crowd and retrieved the severely wounded man from a ditch he was thrown in. At least one protestor has died in clashed with the widely feared Imbonerakure militias and police, sending scores to the streets seeking revenge. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Soldiers run after demonstrators protesting President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to seek a third term in office who caught and stoned a suspected Imbonerakure militiaman in the Cibitoke district of Bujumbura, Burundi, Thursday May 7, 2015. They dispersed the crowd and retrieved the severely wounded man from a ditch he was hiding in. At least one protestor has died in clashed with the widely feared Imbonerakure militias and police, sending scores to the streets seeking revenge. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Demonstrators trying to march to the town center flee as police disperse them with tear gas, in the Ngagara district of Bujumbura, Burundi Wednesday, May 13, 2015. A police officer opened fire at protesters in Burundi's capital Wednesday as demonstrations against the president's bid for a third term heated up, with troops surrounding the national radio station. (AP Photo/Gildas Ngingo)
A civilian carries a Christian cross as a sign of impartiality as he and others walk down a major road in the capital Bujumbura, in Burundi Thursday, May 14, 2015. Gunfire and explosions rang out in Burundi's capital on Thursday as military forces backing an attempted coup against President Pierre Nkurunziza battled it out with forces loyal to the elected leader. (AP Photo/Erik Esbjornsson)
A Burundi army soldier riding in an armored vehicle raises his gun in the air as he joins demonstrators celebrating what they perceive to be an attempted military coup d'etat, in the capital Bujumbura, Burundi Wednesday, May 13, 2015. Police vanished from the streets of Burundi's capital Wednesday as thousands of people celebrated a coup attempt against President Pierre Nkurunziza. (AP Photo/Berthier Mugiraneza)
A civilian jumps over a burning barricade of rocks erected by residents to protect themselves from police, in a northern district of the capital Bujumbura, in Burundi Thursday, May 14, 2015. Gunfire and explosions rang out in Burundi's capital on Thursday as military forces backing an attempted coup against President Pierre Nkurunziza battled it out with forces loyal to the elected leader. (AP Photo/Erik Esbjornsson)
A demonstrator carrying a stick walks in the Musaga neighborhood of Bujumbura, Burundi, Friday May 1, 2015. Anti-government street demonstrations continued for a sixth day in protest against the move by President Pierre Nkurunziza to seek a third term. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Demonstrators chant anti government slogans in front of riot police in Bujumbura, Burundi, Thursday, April 30, 2015. Bujumbura has been hit by street protests since Sunday as the security forces confront demonstrators who say a third term for President Pierre Nkurunziza would violate the country's constitution. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
A demonstrator brings tires to a burning barricade in Bujumbura, Burundi, Thursday, April 30, 2015. Bujumbura has been hit by street protests since Sunday as the security forces confront demonstrators who say a third term for President Pierre Nkurunziza would violate the country's constitution. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Demonstrators face off with riot police in the Musaga district of Bujumbura, Burundi, Monday May 4, 2015. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
Protestors chant "let us pass" as they cross a barricade in the Musaga district of Bujumbura, Burundi, Monday May 4, 2015. Anti-government demonstrations resumed in Burundi's capital after a weekend pause as thousands continue to protest the president's decision to seek a third term. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)
A resident looks out of house as riot police walk past in the Nyakabiga district, Burundi, Monday May 4, 2015. Anti-government demonstrations resumed in Burundi's capital after a weekend pause as thousands continue to protest the president's decision to seek a third term. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

But critics view his decision to stand again as a dismissal of the Arusha peace agreement that served as a basis for the 2005 constitution, and enshrined equal rights for the minority Tutsi population, who had dominated government prior to the conflict. “If this conflict goes on for any longer, it [could] descend into a scenario of all out war between two parties who are very well armed,” said Yolande Bouka, an analyst at the Institute for Security Studies. “The whole country could be swallowed by civil war.”

More than 70,000 Burundians have already fled to Rwanda, according to the UN, fearing violence in the run-up to elections that had been scheduled for late June. The ruling CNDD-FDD party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, has in particular been deployed to intimidate and harass those who support the opposition. It is particularly tainted for its role in the brutal extra-judicial executions of at least 47 captured rebels in Cibitoke last December.

Despite fears in some quarters that the conflict could play out along ethnic lines, the battle for power remains a purely political one at present. General Niyombare, a Hutu, hails from the president’s innermost circle. He rose through the ranks to become the army chief of staff, served as Burundi’s ambassador to Kenya, and was appointed head of intelligence in December, putting him at the heart of a regime that ruled by force.

He was abruptly sacked in February after writing to the president advising him not to seek a third term, fearing, like others in the military, that it would lead to civil disturbance. Mr Nkurunziza, a born-again Christian who believes he has a divine calling to lead, is treading a well-worn path in Africa. In four African countries, leaders have clung onto power for more than 30 years, and President Yoweri Museveni in nearby Uganda this year celebrated his 29th year in office.

It was perhaps unsurprising then that African nations roundly condemned the coup. “East African leaders are determined to find a lasting solution to Burundi’s crisis,” Tanzanian Foreign Minister Bernard Membe said. “Africa does not want the leadership of any country to be assumed by the barrel of a gun.”

But if Mr Nkurunziza does not return to Burundi soon, it will be hard for him to regain control as the legitimate leader of the country, analysts said, raising the prospect of a protracted power struggle.

African coups: Failed takeover bids

The Gambia

An attempted coup to topple the strongman President, Yahya Jammeh, on Boxing Day failed when plotters thought the President’s guard wouldn’t return fire. Most of the assailants died.

Mr Jammeh came to power by overthrowing the country’s first President, in 1994.

Ivory Coast

Has seen an number of coup attempts. In 2012 authorities foiled a plot to overthrow the government organised by supporters of the former President Laurent Gbagbo.

The coup plotters were linked to Liberian mercenaries and Ivorian militias. Mr Gbagbo will go on trial in November over a violent reaction to his refusing to stand down.

Source: Independent

Independent News Service

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