BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Two senior army officers and a police general accused of taking part in an attempted coup in Burundi have been arrested, a presidential spokesman said on Friday as it became apparent that a military plot to oust President Pierre Nkurunziza had fizzled out.
Gervais Abayeho told The Associated Press Friday that the leader of the attempted coup, Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare, is at large and that security forces are looking for him. He did not name the attempted coup plotters in custody.
Another official said Nkurunziza is in the northern Burundian city of Ngozi, where he is popular, and that a government news team is being dispatched there for him to make a statement to be broadcast. The official spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to divulge such information.
The streets of Bujumbura were mostly calm on Friday following fighting on Thursday between loyalist troops and forces supporting Niyombare, who announced the coup bid on Wednesday while Nkurunziza was in Tanzania for a meeting with regional leaders about unrest in his country.
Along a highway in the south of the country, there were many police checkpoints but otherwise life was going on as normal.
Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term had triggered protests over several days, with opponents saying it violated the Constitution as well as peace accords that ended a civil war here. At least 15 people were killed in the demonstrations that began on April 26, a day after the ruling party made Nkurunziza its presidential candidate.
Burundi’s presidency late Thursday saluted the police, who had tried to quell the demonstrations, for their patriotism.
Still, the U.S. urged its citizens to leave Burundi the country and advised against traveling to Burundi. The U.S. Embassy in Burundi said it is closed Friday amid the insecurity.
Burundi’s Constitution states a president can be popularly elected to two five-year terms. Nkurunziza maintains he is eligible for a third because parliament elected him to his first term, leaving him open to be popularly elected to two terms.
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 longstanding ethnic tensions between the Hutu and the Tutsi people, lasted until 2005.
Nkurunziza, a Hutu, took over as president and embarked on a campaign of ethnic reconciliation and economic rehabilitation.
But watchdog groups warned of the risk of civil unrest if Nkrurunziza insists on seeking a third term.
More than 105,000 Burundians have fled to the neighboring countries of Congo, Rwanda and Tanzania, many of them citing pressure to support Nkurunziza’s party in upcoming elections, according to the U.N.
Presidential elections are set for June 26 but it is now unclear if they will actually take place.
Jerome Delay in rural southern Burundi and Edmund Kagire in Kigali, Rwanda, contributed to this report.
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