Burundi coup ends in failure, leaders arrested

A Syrian government tank is parked near damaged buildings as soldiers walk past in Adra, northeast of the capital Damascus on September 25, 2014 (AFP Photo/Louai Beshara)
An attempt to overthrow Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza ended in failure on Friday as coup leaders admitted defeat and were arrested or hunted down by loyalist troops.
General Godefroid Niyombare, who launched the coup in the central African nation earlier in the week, told AFP by telephone that he wanted to give himself up, and said soldiers supporting the president were approaching him.
"We have decided to surrender," he said. "I hope they won\’t kill us."
It was not immediately clear if he was arrested or killed.
The coup leaders\’ spokesman, Venon Ndabaneze, was also speaking to AFP confirming that the putschists had decided to surrender when loyalist troops arrested him, deputy coup leader Cyrille Ndayirukiye and another senior figure among the mutineers.
"We decided to give ourselves up. We have laid down our arms. We have called the security ministry to tell them we no longer have any arms," Ndabaneze said, seconds before he could be heard being arrested.
AFP remained on the line as the leaders were detained.
The dramatic end to the coup attempt came shortly after the presidency announced that Nkurunziza — who was abroad when the coup was declared — had returned to the country.
He was in neighbouring Tanzania for regional talks Wednesday when Niyombare launched the coup, in a culmination of weeks of violent street protests against the president\’s bid to seek a third term.
Another coup leader, General Cyrille Ndayirukiye, said the rebels had been "faced with an overpowering military determination to support the system in power".
The coup attempt had raised fears of a return to widespread violence in the impoverished country, which is still recovering from a 13-year civil war that ended in 2006 and left hundreds of thousands dead.
On Thursday, loyalist troops fought off two major attacks by rival soldiers in an intense battle for control over the strategically important state broadcaster.
The fight for RTNB, the state radio and television broadcaster, was seen as crucial to control the flow of information as Burundi\’s main private radio stations and the largest independent television channel were no longer broadcasting. The influential African Public Radio station was even set ablaze after being hit by a rocket.
A senior police official said the pro-coup troops were "in disarray" after their assault on the RTNB state television and radio complex in the capital was repelled.
The bodies of three soldiers were seen by an AFP journalist lying in the street near the scene of the clashes.
By mid-afternoon, station director Jerome Nzokirantevye said it was "loyalist soldiers who are in control".
Wednesday\’s coup announcement drew international criticism, with the United States insisting that Nkurunziza remained "the legitimate president" — even if it has also been firmly critical of his bid to stay in power.
The United Nations Security Council, in emergency talks on the crisis, called for an end to the violence and "the holding of credible elections" while separately, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned "attempts to oust elected governments by military force" and urged calm.
Opposition and rights groups insist that it is unconstitutional for Nkurunziza, who has been in office since 2005, to run for more than two terms. The president, however, argues his first term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people.
Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader from the Hutu majority and born-again Christian, also believes he ascended to the presidency with divine backing.
More than 25 people have been killed and scores wounded since late April, when Burundi\’s ruling CNDD-FDD party — which has been accused of intimidating the opposition and arming its own militia — nominated Nkurunziza to stand for re-election in June 26 polls.
It remains unclear, however, how many have died since the launch of the coup.
More than 50,000 Burundians have fled the violence to neighbouring nations in recent weeks, with the UN preparing for thousands more refugees.
In his message announcing the coup, Niyombare signalled he did not want to take power himself, vowing instead to work for "the resumption of the electoral process in a peaceful and fair environment".
Niyombare is a highly respected figure who was sacked from his intelligence post in February after he opposed Nkurunziza\’s attempt to prolong his 10-year rule.
Asked to decide on the issue of a third term, Burundi\’s constitutional court found in the president\’s favour, but not before one of the judges fled the country claiming its members were subject to death threats.
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