Celebration and confusion in Burundi amid conflicting reports of coup

President Pierre Nkurunziza dismissed, army general says, after protests over bid for third term

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The situation in the African country of Burundi was tense Wednesday amid conflicting reports of a coup against the government of President Pierre Nkurunziza.

Reports say soldiers have stationed themselves outside the state broadcaster in the center of the capital, Bujumbura.

It comes after a Burundi army general said that he had sacked Nkurunziza as president for seeking an unconstitutional third term in office, and was working with civil society groups to form a transitional government.

Major Gen. Godefroid Niyombare said Wednesday that President Nkurunziza's mandate is over, however whether he had the support of the military was unclear as gunfire echoed in the streets.

The presidential office quickly dismissed the declaration by Niyombare, who was fired by Nkurunziza as intelligence chief in February. “We consider it as a joke not as a military coup,” presidential aide Willy Niyamitwe told Reuters.

Burundi's presidency, in a message posted on Twitter, said: “The situation is under control, there is no coup in Burundi.”

But crowds of people streamed onto the streets of Burundi's capital, cheering and singing, after the coup announcement and soldiers surrounded the state broadcaster building.

Niyombare made his declaration to reporters at a military barracks in Bujumbura, while the president was out of the country at an African summit on the crisis.

Niyombare, also a former ambassador to Kenya, was surrounded by several other senior officers in the army and police, including a former defense minister.

“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,” he said.

Niyombare announced the creation of a temporary ruling committee to re-establish stability, with him as the president.

The confused picture comes after weeks of violence.

More than 20 people have been killed since street protests erupted in the impoverished central African state more than two weeks ago, according to an unofficial count by activists.

The demonstrators say Nkurunziza's bid for another five years in office violates a two-term limit in the constitution and the Arusha peace deal, which ended an ethnically fueled civil war in 2005 that killed 300,000 people.

Protesters were in the streets again Wednesday, protesting the president's bid for a third term. In some neighborhoods, they battled past police in an effort to reach the downtown area.

An Associated Press journalist was present when a police officer fired around five single shots at the protesters in Bujumbura. Whether there were casualties was unclear.

Police also fired tear gas and water cannons to deter protesters trying to enter the central business district of Bujumbura. A group of women protesters managed to infiltrate the police cordon and entered the central business district.

Nkurunziza has joined other East African Community leaders from Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda in the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam for a special meeting to discuss the turmoil in Burundi. The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, has also traveled to Dar es Salaam to contribute to the emergency meeting, according to a statement from the U.S. State Department.

Thomas-Greenfield will express U.S. concern about the situation in Burundi as well as U.S. support for the Arusha Agreement that ended Burundi's civil war a decade ago and political dialogue among all parties to ensure peaceful, credible and inclusive elections in Burundi, the statement said.

Burundi's constitution states a president can be popularly elected to two five-year terms. Nkurunziza maintains he can run for a third term because parliament elected him for his first term, leaving him open to be popularly elected to two terms.

More than 50,000 people have fled to neighboring states. The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said the crisis was heading toward a “worst-case scenario” that could see 300,000 people fleeing, some to other parts of Burundi and others abroad.

Al Jazeera and wire services

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