A senior Burundian army official has declared a coup against the country’s embattled president, Pierre Nkurunziza, the BBC is reporting.
Major general Godefroid Niyombare was quoted by local radio saying that senior officers are “dismissing” the president and will form a “national salvation committee” to run the country.
Former intelligence chief Niyombare, flanked by army officers and a former defense minister, said: “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.”
An aide to president Nkurunziza, who is gunning to be re-elected for a third term, called the news a “joke.” Nkurunziza posted on Twitter declaring that the coup has failed.
Social media is still blocked in the country on mobile phones (the government cut off access on April 30), but apparently people are able to access the sites via VPN and wifi. And in a sign of the times, the popular mobile app WhatsApp is one way some are confirming that a coup is, indeed, underway. A Le Monde reporter tweeted that WhatsApp being back on was the latest sign that that there was indeed a coup underway.
Whatsapp is one of the most popular apps in many African countries.
In an ironic twist Nkuruzinza’s spokespeople used Twitter and Facebook this morning to tell the world that the coup attempt was a fantasy. ”A group of soldiers mutinied this morning and made a fantasy declaration of a coup d’etat,” said the government statement according to the AP. ”This attempted coup was foiled and these people … are sought by defense and security forces so they are brought to justice.” and would fail.
Meanwhile, a spokesman for the South African foreign ministry told Reuters ”it’s way too early to say” whether, in fact, a coup has taken place. South African deputy president Cyril Ramaphosa, along with US assistant secretary for African affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield, are at a summit in Tanzania called by regional leaders to resolve the crisis in the east African country. President Nkurunziza is also at the meeting.
Protestors are flocking the streets of Bujumbura, celebrating the news.
Burundi has been mired in a political standoff since late April after the decision by Nkurunziza to seek a third term, defying the country’s constitution. Clashes between protestors opposing the decision and the police have thus far left at least 20 people dead and have stoked a refugee crisis with 50,000 people fleeing to neighboring countries.