Burundi president condemns coup, forgives those who surrender

Burundi’s president condemned on Thursday an attempted coup and said he was ready to forgive any soldier who decided to surrender, speaking in a broadcast on state radio before transmission stopped.

“I condemn that group of coup plotters,” said President Pierre Nkurunziza, who was in Tanzania when the coup attempt was announced on Wednesday. “I thank soldiers who are putting things in order, and I forgive any soldier who decides to surrender.”

The radio stopped broadcasting after he spoke and after heavy gunfire was heard coming from the area of the state broadcasting headquarters.

Explosions could be heard in central Bujumbura. Gunshots were being heard in central Bujumbura.

Thousands took to the streets on Wednesday to celebrate after Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare announced on a private radio station that Nkurunziza had been relieved of his duties.

Nkurunziza was in neighboring Tanzania for a summit on his country’s troubles at the time. His whereabouts remained unclear Thursday, but the presidency said in a Twitter post Thursday that Nkurunziza urged the country to remain calm amid the attempted coup, and that the situation is under control. The military is divided between Nkurunziza loyalists and those who back Niyombare, who had been fired in February as the country’s intelligence chief. The army chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Prime Niyongabo, said on state radio late Wednesday that he is “against Maj. Gen. Niyombare.”

A grenade attack Wednesday night seriously damaged the building of private broadcaster Renaissance TV, where Niyombare also made his coup statement, said the station’s director, Innocent Muhozi. One of his offices was also burned overnight, he said.

Police withdrew from the streets of Bujumbura after Niyombare’s coup statement, and people thronged Bujumbura’s streets and applauded soldiers who rode by in tanks and trucks. But some officials remained loyal to Nkurunziza, whose office said a statement posted on the president’s Twitter and Facebook accounts Wednesday evening that the coup attempt was unsuccessful.

At least 15 people were killed during protests since April 26 over Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term. During the unrest, the military acted as a buffer between police and protesters who said Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term violated the Constitution and Arusha peace accords that ended a civil war here.

The president of Tanzania, Jikaya Kiwkete who chaired the summit there on Burundi’s crisis, said the regional leaders condemned the coup and called for return to constitutional order.

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.