A report by Reuters says a Burundian general said on Wednesday he had deposed President Pierre Nkurunziza for seeking an unconstitutional third term in office, and was working with civil society groups to form a transitional government.
But as cheering crowds streamed into the streets of the capital Bujumbura, sporadic gunfire was heard in the city center, and it was not immediately clear how much support Major General Godefroid Niyombare had.
With President Pierre Nkurunziza abroad at an African summit in Tanzania to discuss Burundi’s crisis, the presidential office swiftly rubbished the declaration by Niyombare, who had been fired as Nkurunziza’s intelligence chief in February.
“We consider it as a joke, not as a military coup,” presidential aide Willy Niyamitwe told Reuters, while a statement on the presidency’s Facebook page said the attempted coup had been “foiled”.
Niyombare made his declaration to reporters at a barracks in Bujumbura after more than two weeks of street protests against Nkurunziza’s attempt to win a third term.
It was not immediately clear who was in control. The state broadcaster, often a primary target during state takeovers in Africa, was surrounded by troops. An employee inside told Reuters that soldiers were trying to enter while others were resisting.
But that did not deter crowds of people dancing and singing in the streets. Some sat on top of cars. A Reuters witness said there was little sign of the police, hated by protesters for breaking up demonstrations by force, and widely considered loyal to Nkurunziza’s party.
“Regarding President Nkurunziza’s arrogance and defiance of the international community, which advised him to respect the constitution and Arusha peace agreement, the committee for the establishment of the national concord decide: President Nkurunziza is dismissed, his government is dismissed too,” Niyombare said, surrounded by several other senior army and police officers, including a former defense minister.