BUJUMBURA - Protesters took to the streets of the capital in Burundi Monday for the first time since a failed coup attempt against the president last week. Military forces took a stronger, leading role in keeping a damper on demonstrations against the government.
Gathering in the same quarters of the city where they demonstrated for the past four weeks, protesters said President Pierre Nkurunziza's plan to run again violates the law.
In past protests, demonstrators threw stones at the police from behind makeshift barricades in the streets. Police officers responded with tear gas and live gunfire.
The military has taken a mostly neutral position, standing between protesters and the police to prevent further violence. But on Monday, days after a renegade commander attempted to overthrow the president, the military’s role appeared to change.
Heavily armed soldiers actively put down the demonstrations, pulling apart roadblocks and dispersing protesters by firing guns into the air.
In the Cibitoke neighborhood, resident Blaise Ndaysienga told VOA there are divisions among the military here.
“When we try to analyze the army — they are divided into two groups," he said. "The army who are on the other side they are against the third term of Nkurunziza, but this side, they are with Nkurunziza.”
In the Musaga neighborhood, the split between military divisions became more apparent when foreign journalists saw two groups of soldiers nearly come to blows in a disagreement about how to treat the protesters.
The demonstrations themselves have lost a bit of steam since the coup. Only a few hundred people came out Monday in Musaga, one of the hotspots of the protest movement.
Many protesters said they did not want to be associated with those who launched the coup, possibly for fear of reprisal.
But the message remains the same, according to Claude Ndaizeye, a Bujumbura resident who supports the protests.
“The president himself says that Burundi is a poor country.” He said. “And he has governed for 10 years and now he wants another five years but we are still poor. The ruling party should choose another candidate.”
In another development Monday, President Nkurunziza announced a cabinet shuffle, replacing his ministers of defense and foreign affairs, following the failed coup.
The president has pushed on with his plans to run for another term, while regional leaders have urged the country to postpone elections scheduled for the end of June due to the unrest.