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Whereabouts of Burundi’s President Still Unclear

  • James Butty

Policemen clash with protesters near a parliament building during a protest against Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term in Bujumbura, Burundi, May 13, 2015.

Policemen clash with protesters near a parliament building during a protest against Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term in Bujumbura, Burundi, May 13, 2015.

Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, was quiet Wednesday night following an attempted coup, but the whereabouts of President Nkurunziza remain unclear.

The president was in neighboring Tanzania Wednesday for a summit of East African leaders when an army general announced that Nkurunziza had been overthrown.

This followed weeks of violent protests against the president’s decision to run for a third term. Interior Minister Edouard Nduwimana told VOA’s Central African Service that President Nkurunziza had returned to Burundi, although he did not specify his location.

But Innocent Muhozi, general manager of the independent Renaissance Radio and Television, said President Nkurunziza could not have returned to Burundi because the airport is under the control of the coup makers.

“The capital city seems to be very calm even though we heard some shooting a few minutes ago coming from the international airport of Bujumbura. Those who made the coup seem to be in control of most of the main places in the capital city except the public radio and television,” he said.

Muhozi said the national radio and television station appeared to be under the control of forces loyal to President Nkurunziza, led by the minister of defense and the army chief of staff.

He said it appears the two sides are talking to each other, apparently to find a way out and avoid shooting at each other.

“It means that there is some mediation from some high ranking officers, including the minister of defense and the chief of staff of the army. They seem to want to avoid fighting,” Muhozi said.

Muhozi contradicts early reports quoting Interior minister Edouard Nduwimana that President Nkurunziza had returned to Burundi.

“We’ve been told that he (Nkurunziza) tried to flee to Kampala but he came back to Tanzania. He was not allowed to come in because the airport is under the country of those who made the coup,” he said.

Muhozi said judging from the popular support the coup makers received initially, it would be difficult to say that the coup will fail.

“You should have seen how the people in the capital were so happy to hear about this coup and the demonstration of joy that they showed,” he said.

He said Burundians are planning yet another big demonstration Thursday to show their support for the coup.

Muhozi said it is unlikely there be clashes between protesters and security forces because the police who once used to beat protesters have been [driven] out by the army,” he said.

Meanwhile, the United States said on Thursday it continues to recognize Pierre Nkurunziza as the legitimate president of Burundi.

"There are competing claims to authority but we recognize President Nkurunziza as the legitimate president," State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke told reporters at a briefing in Washington.

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