Bujumbura – Heavy fighting erupted on Thursday between government supporters and followers of military coup leader Godefroid Niyombare over the control of Burundi’s national broadcaster and the airport in the capital, Bujumbura.
The clashes came a day after Niyombare, a former intelligence chief, seized power while President Pierre Nkurunziza was away at an East African summit in Tanzania.
The national radio remained in government hands and went back on air after several hours of fighting, an opposition source said. Witnesses said three people were killed.
Clashes between pro- and anti-government forces have been ongoing, with heavy artillery on the streets of the capital as well as around Bujumbura’s airport.
Nkurunziza, meanwhile, called for calm from neighbouring Tanzania, where he had remained stuck since the coup attempt, via his Twitter page and the presidency’s website.
“The protests now taking place, especially in the capital of our country, have caused enormous and manifold damage,” Nkurunziza said.
Local journalists said the president left Tanzania later on Thursday, but Foreign Minister Bernard Membe said he could not confirm the president’s whereabouts.
“I don’t know where [Nkurunziza] is right now,” Membe said. dpa was unable to confirm reports that the president had flown to Uganda.
Nkurunziza, who insists the coup failed, was unable to return to Burundi on Wednesday after Niyombare closed the airport and the country’s frontiers.
Renewed ethnic violence
The president spent the night in Tanzania’s capital, Dar es Salaam, under heavy security.
Niyombare was sacked from his intelligence job by Nkurunziza earlier this year after criticising the president’s bid to seek a third term in elections scheduled for June 26.
Nkurunziza’s announcement has sparked massive protests that have turned deadly in recent weeks. Human rights activists say more than 20 people have been killed since the protests began on April 26.
The unrest sparked fears of renewed ethnic violence in Burundi, where the 1993-2005 civil war pitting Hutus and Tutsis killed an estimated 300 000 people.
French President Francois Hollande called on “all the present forces to renounce all violence and to take the necessary measures so that the electoral process can restart as soon as possible, respecting the constitution and the Arusha agreement.”
The constitution and the Arusha agreement, which ended the civil war, stipulate that presidents may not serve more than two terms.
Burundi’s Constitutional Court ruled last week that Nkurunziza’s first term did not count because he was elected by parliament, not by popular vote, in 2005.
More than 50 000 Burundians have fled the violence to neighbouring countries, according to the United Nations.
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