Burundian President Back After Coup Attempt

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza arrived back in the country Thursday, a day after a coup was declared while he was in Tanzania for regional talks, his office said.

 A file picture taken on 14 December 2006 in Nairobi at the UN-sponsored conference on the Great Lakes Region shows Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza. Burundi's presidency said an attempted coup by a top general had

“President Pierre Nkurunziza is now in Burundi,” his senior communications advisor Willy Nyamitwe told AFP. “That’s all we can say for the now because of security reasons.”

Nkurunziza was in neighbouring Tanzania for regional talks Wednesday when the coup was announced by former intelligence chief Godefroid Niyombare, in a culmination of weeks of street protests against the president’s bid to seek a third term.

But the outcome of the coup appeared uncertain Thursday as rival factions within the security forces clashed around the state television and radio complex.

Broadcasts to the nation were briefly interrupted but resumed after anti-coup forces repelled a major attack by rival troops.

In the afternoon, station director Jerome Nzokirantevye said it was “loyalist soldiers who are in control.”

The bodies of three soldiers were seen by an AFP journalist lying in the street.

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

The coup announcement triggered international criticism and the United States insisted Nkurunziza remained the legitimate president.

“There are competing claims to authority, but we recognise President Nkurunziza as the legitimate president,” State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters.

The UN Security Council, in emergency talks on the crisis on Thursday, condemned the coup attempt and called for a swift return to the rule of law in the impoverished country.

UN envoy Said Djinnit briefed the council, saying it was “still unclear” whether the coup attempt would succeed, a diplomat told AFP.

AFP reporters in the Burundian capital said the crackle of automatic weapons fire and the thump of explosions could be heard throughout the night Wednesday, and intensified around dawn on Thursday.

For much of the day the streets were largely deserted by civilians as sporadic clashes could be heard in other parts of the city, while plumes of smoke were seen on the city skyline.

Both sides claimed to control the streets.

But Burundi’s armed forces chief, a supporter of the president, went on national radio to declare that the coup, launched by former intelligence chief Godefroid Niyombare, had failed.

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