Police vanish from Burundi capital as coup attempt celebrated

Burundi Political Tensions-2

May 13, 2015: Demonstrators trying to march to the town center confront police, before they were dispersed with tear gas, in the Ngagara district of Bujumbura, Burundi.

Police have vanished from the streets of Burundi’s capital as thousands of people celebrated a coup attempt against President Pierre Nkurunziza, who was in a neighboring country for a conference.

During three weeks of unrest in which 15 people were killed, the military has been acting as buffer between police and protesters who oppose Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term, saying it violates the Constitution and Arusha peace accords that ended a civil war here.

An army general said on a private radio station Wednesday that Nkurunziza’s mandate is over. However, whether the general had the support of the military was unclear.

Nkurunziza is in the neighboring country of Tanzania for a summit to end the unrest.

Before the radio announcement, protesters were in Bujumbura’s streets Wednesday. In some neighborhoods, they battled past police in an effort to reach the downtown area. One policeman was seen opening fire on protesters.

Army troops surrounded state radio but it was not immediately clear to whom they were loyal.

Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare read a statement on Bonesha FM radio, saying the president had violated the Constitution and the Arusha peace accords by seeking a third term in June elections.

“Given the necessity to preserve the country’s integrity … President Pierre Nkurunziza is dismissed from his functions,” Niyombare said.

The general announced the creation of a temporary ruling committee to re-establish stability of which he is the president.

Earlier police had fired tear gas and water cannons to repulse protesters trying to enter Bujumbura’s central business district. A group of women protesters managed to infiltrate the police cordon and entered the central business district.

An Associated Press journalist was present when a police officer fired around five single shots at the protesters in Bujumbura. Whether there were casualties was unclear.

Nkurunziza has joined other East African Community leaders from Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam for a special meeting to discuss the turmoil in Burundi. The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, has also traveled to Dar es Salaam to contribute to the emergency meeting, according to a statement from the U.S. State Department.

Thomas-Greenfield will express U.S. concern about the situation in Burundi as well as U.S. support for the Arusha Agreement which ended Burundi’s civil war a decade ago and political dialogue among all parties to ensure peaceful, credible and inclusive elections in Burundi, the statement said.

In addition to the 15 fatalities, more than 220 have been injured in the protests, according to Burundi’s Red Cross. The protests started on April 25 after the ruling party nominated Nkurunziza to run for re-election in elections set for June.

Burundi’s 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 term, leaving him open to be popularly elected to two terms.

More than 50,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries fearing violence ahead of the elections, according to the U.N. refugee agency.

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