Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza

There are multiple reports from Bujumbura, the capital city of Burundi, that a coup d’etat has taken place while President Pierre Nkurunziza was on travel in Tanzania. Army Major General Godefroid Niyombare seized a radio station in the capital and broadcasted “President Pierre Nkurunziza is removed from office.”

The radio declaration is said to have set off celebrations in the streets of Bujumbura among protesters attempting to prevent President Nkurunziza from securing a third term as president.

Protests and violence have increased in recent weeks, shortly after President Nkurunziza announced that he was seeking a third term as president. Supporters of the president argue that his first four years in office were not official, because he was unelected by the Burundian citizens. President Nkurunziza rose to power after a period of civil war in the small East African country, under a 2005 power sharing agreement between governing and militant forces. The Supreme Court of Burundi also declared President Nkurunziza’s attempt at a third term constitutional, after a judge fled the country for his life saying he was pressured to deliver a favorable verdict for the president.

There are however many unanswered questions whether the latest coup attempt in Burundi’s history was successful. It is not immediately clear whether Major General Niyombare had the full support of the army.

There have been multiple reports that the Burundi police in parts of the capital shot at Major Gen. Niyombare’s soldiers and at crowds of protesters. According to the New York Times, police have withdrawn and a popular radio station that was shut down is back on air.

Major Gen. Niyombare justified his coup attempt because of the government’s violent repression against protesters, endemic corruption in the country, and that it violated the constitution. He is known as the country’s first ever Hutu Army Chief, and he lead negotiations with the last rebel group the National Liberation Front. It is also reported on the BBC that Major Gen. Niyombare was dismissed in February after he recommended against President Nkurunziza from seeking a third term in office.

President Nkurunziza was meeting with East African leaders and diplomats in Tanzania on the topic of his attempt to run for president. The president issued a public statement calling the coup “imaginary” and unsuccessful. 

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