Burundi army officer says president sacked

A Burundi army general says he had sacked Pierre Nkurunziza as president for seeking an unconstitutional third term in office, and was working with civil society groups to form a transitional government.

BUJUMBURA, BURUNDI (MAY 13, 2015) (REUTERS) – A Burundi army general said on Wednesday (May 13) he had sacked Pierre Nkurunziza as president for seeking an unconstitutional third term in office, and was working with civil society groups to form a transitional government.

The presidential office quickly rubbished the declaration by Major General Godefroid 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.

But crowds of people streamed onto the streets of Burundi’s capital, cheering and singing, after the 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 defence minister.

In an audio statement, Niyombare said:

“As Burundians, we strongly reject a bid for third term by President Pierre Nkurunziza, which goes against the constitution and Arusha accords. President Pierre Nkurunziza has been dismissed as president of Burundi, and the government of Burundi has been relieved of its powers. State ministers can continue their daily duties within the government. We ask senior army officers, together with province governors to maintain security for all Burundians and all who live in this country, while respecting human rights. We also ask security forces to remain united and keep good relations with the population, especially in these difficult times. We ask all Burundians, especially those protesting to maintain peace and respect people’s property. We ask all politicians and those in private organisations, as well as religious leaders to remain united. We will set up a national salvation committee that will be tasked to give this country its dignity. The committee will also in charge of maintaining the rule of law and respect for our institutions, as well as new election timetable. This committee will be working with politicians and other organizations and church leaders to come up with new guidelines on the most pressing issues affecting the country.”

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 fuelled civil war in 2005 that killed 300,000 people.

East African leaders and a top official from continental heavyweight South Africa were meeting in Tanzania’s commercial capital Dar es Salaam to discuss the crisis that has already spilled over into a region with a history of ethnic conflict.

South Africa’s Foreign Ministry in Pretoria said it was monitoring the situation in Burundi closely but said it was too early to determine whether the move amounted to a coup.

Western donors, including the United States and the European Union, have criticised Nkurunziza’s decision to stand again.

The European Union and Belgium had said they were suspending some aid, particularly support for the elections due to the violence. Burundi’s former colonial ruler Belgium had no immediate comment on the statement from the general.

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