East African leaders condemned an attempted coup in Burundi on Wednesday, after a top general said he had deposed President Pierre Nkurunziza while he and regional presidents held talks to end weeks of violent protests. Major General Godefroid Niyombare then ordered Bujumbura airport to be closed when the president left crisis talks in Tanzania to return home.
“The summit condemns the coup in Burundi, it does not solve problems in Burundi,” Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said at the end of the day-long crisis meeting of the five-nation East African Community (EAC) comprising Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi.
“We call upon the return to the constitutional order,” Kikwete added, speaking in Tanzania’s coastal city of Dar es Salaam.
“Given the situation in Burundi, conditions are not conducive for elections in Burundi and the summit calls upon the authorities to postpone the elections for a period not beyond the mandate of the current government.”
The Burundian general who launched the coup ordered the closure of Bujumbura airport and land borders as Nkurunziza tried to fly home from Tanzania.
“I order the closure of the airport and border, and I ask every citizen and law enforcement down to the airport to protect it,” Niyombare said in a radio broadcast.
Nkurunziza boarded a flight back to Burundi hours after Niyombare announced the coup. “He has left because of the situation prevailing in Burundi,” said Tanzanian government spokesperson Salva Rweyemamu, adding that he was heading back to capital city Bujumbura.
More than 20 people have been killed and scores wounded since late April, when Burundi’s ruling party nominated Nkurunziza to stand for a third term on June 26, triggering daily protests.
Violence in Burundi has raised fears of a return to violence in the Central African state, which is still recovering from a brutal 13-year civil war that ended in 2006.
Critics say a third term for Nkurunziza runs counter to the Constitution and the Arusha accords that ended the war.
The EAC summit has called for elections “in respect of the Constitution, the electoral law and the spirit of the Arusha peace agreement”, according to Kikwete.
More than 50 000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring nations since the unrest began. – AFP