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President returns after coup fails

Published 15/05/2015

An attempted coup was mounted in Burundi as president Pierre Nkurunziza was out of the country. (AP)
An attempted coup was mounted in Burundi as president Pierre Nkurunziza was out of the country. (AP)

The president of Burundi is believed to have returned to the capital after a coup attempt fizzled out, but tensions remained high as residents emerged from their homes again to protest against his bid for a third term.

Pierre Nkurunziza's motorcade arrived in Bujumbura and headed to the presidential palace. He is believed to have arrived from the northern city of Ngozi, where he enjoys popular support, according to a government official.

Two senior army officers and a police general accused of taking part in the attempted coup have been arrested. Their leader, Major General Godefroid Niyombare, is still being hunted, presidential spokesman Gervais Abayeho said.

The streets of Bujumbura were mostly calm after fighting yesterday between loyalist troops and forces supporting Niyombare, who announced the coup bid on Wednesday while Mr Nkurunziza was in Tanzania for a meeting with regional leaders.

Mr Nkurunziza's bid for a third term triggered protests over several days, with opponents saying it violated the constitution as well as peace accords that ended a civil war. At least 15 people were killed in the demonstrations that began on April 26, a day after the ruling party made Mr Nkurunziza its presidential candidate.

Burundi's presidency last night saluted the police, who had tried to quell the demonstrations, for their patriotism.

Burundi's constitution says a president can be popularly elected to one five-year term, renewable once. Mr Nkurunziza was re-elected in 2010 but for his first term he was chosen by parliament, and he maintains he is consequently eligible for a third.

Burundi erupted into civil war in 1993 following the assassination of the country's first ethnic Hutu president, Melchior Ndadaye. That conflict, which split open long-standing ethnic tensions between the Hutu and the Tutsi people, lasted until 2005.

Mr Nkurunziza, a Hutu, took over as president and embarked on a campaign of ethnic reconciliation and economic rehabilitation, but a youth wing of his party has been accused human rights violations, including murdering political opponents.

Watchdog groups warned of the risk of civil unrest if he insists on seeking a third term in June elections.

More than 105,000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries, according to the UN.

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