Burundi president’s whereabouts unknown as coup unfolds

BurundiBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org
Update, May 14, 1924 UTC: The BBC reports that President Nkurunziza has returned to Bujumbura. He claims that troops loyal to him “are in control of key locations” in the capital.

There was chaos last night in Burundi, as armed cells of coup plotters led by the country’s former intelligence chief claimed to have taken over power in the small but important Central African nation. General Godefroid Niyombare, who was ousted from his post as intelligence chief in February of this year, claimed in a public radio address to have led a successful “military uprising against the country’s President, Pierre Nkurunziza. As of last night, 20 people had been reported dead in capital Bujumbura, while over 200 had been injured and many more hundreds had been arrested by the coup plotters —most of them officials in President Nkurunziza’s administration. The headquarters of the country’s state-owned television and radio stations have been taken over by the coup plotters, while all private radio stations in the country appear to have been shut down. Online social media also seem to have been placed behind a firewall by the coup plotters. The Bujumbura international airport is closed, as are all border crossings into the country.

The alleged coup comes after nearly a month of daily protests in the capital and other major cities, against an attempt by President Nkurunziza to seek a third term in power. Such a move would violate the country’s constitution and has been criticized as unlawful by the African Union, the European Union and the United States. General Niyombare, the self-proclaimed leader of the coup, is thought to have been dismissed from his intelligence post in February for publicly opposing President Nkurunziza’s effort to extend his 10-year rule of the country.

Meanwhile, the whereabouts of the president, who was traveling by air to neighboring Tanzania for a regional summit when the coup broke out, remain unknown. Gunfire and explosions have been reported in Bujumbura, which is interpreted by observers as a sign that troops still loyal to Nkurunziza are defending the presidential palace, the ministry of defense and other strategic buildings in the capital. But the extent to which the plotters and the president have support within the armed forces remains unclear, and it is not known who is currently governing the country.

Burundi is the third largest target by Somali-based Islamist group al-Shabaab, and contributes the second-largest troop force to AMISOM, the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia. Should the government be deposed, the African Union will likely order all Burundian troops to return to their country.

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