Burundi president reported back home as military coup fails

Pierre-Nkurunziza-supporters

Supporters of President Pierre Nkurunziza celebrate his return in the streets of Bujumbura, Burundi, Friday May 15, 2015. The president’s motorcade arrived in Burundi’s capital Friday after a coup attempt fizzled out, but tensions remained high as residents emerged from their homes again to protest the president’s bid for a third term. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — President Pierre Nkurunziza returned Friday to his presidential palace in the capital, a spokesman said, after a military coup failed amid weeks of protests over his decision to seek a third term.

Nkurunziza’s motorcade drove to Bujumbura from the northern city of Ngozi, where he was greeted by many supporters after returning from Tanzania, said spokesman Gervais Abayeho. The president did not appear in public in the capital but was to address the nation later Friday.

Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare, a former intelligence chief, announced Wednesday that Nkurunziza had been relieved of his duties, triggering fierce fighting in the capital between his forces and those loyal to the president. The move came while Nkurunziza was in Tanzania to meet with regional leaders about the political crisis.

Three army generals accused of trying to topple Nkurunziza were arrested after they were found hiding in a house, while another senior security official was caught at the border while trying to flee to Tanzania, Abayeho said. He added that Niyombare remained at large and a manhunt was underway.

Although the streets of Bujumbura were mostly calm, with many businesses in the central district closed, tensions remained high as some residents emerged from their homes again for protests of Nkurunziza’s plans for a third term.

Smoke was still billowing from the building housing the Radio Publique Africaine, which was among four popular independent radio stations and a TV station attacked in the fighting.

The national broadcaster that the coup plotters tried to seize was heavily guarded by army personnel, and many police checkpoints were set up along a highway in southern Burundi.

The U.S. Embassy in Bujumbura was closed Friday, and Washington urged Americans to leave Burundi and advised against traveling there.

The U.S. had called on all sides in Burundi to end the violence and expressed full support for the ongoing work by regional leaders to restore peace and unity in the country.

Dozens of Nkurunziza’s supporters turned out in the Kamenge area of the capital to celebrate his return, blowing whistles and carrying balloons with the ruling party colors.

Supporter Aloys Ntabankana said they were happy over Nkurunziza’s return, and he decried those who tried to topple him.

“You can see how Burundians are bad. We did a bad thing to him, but it’s God who helped us,” Ntabankana said.

“The thing they wanted to do in Burundi would have sunk Burundi into chaos. It would have been a civil war. People would have died because of the coup against Nkurunziza,” he added.

Nkurunziza’s plans to run again 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 April 26, a day after the ruling party made Nkurunziza its presidential candidate.

The Constitution states a president can be popularly elected to two five-year terms. Nkurunziza maintains he can run for a third term because parliament elected him for his first one, leaving him open to be popularly elected to two terms.

Burundi descended 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 a youth wing of his party has been accused human rights violations, including killing political opponents.

More than 105,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries, according to the U.N.

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