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Burundi's Interior Minister Denies Coup

  • VOA Staff

A female protester holds an axe during a protest against Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term in Bujumbura, Burundi, May 13, 2015.

A female protester holds an axe during a protest against Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term in Bujumbura, Burundi, May 13, 2015.

A top Burundian official is dismissing claims of a coup by a renegade general.

Interior Minister Edourd Nduwimana tells VOA's Central African Service that forces loyal to President Pierre Nkurunziza remain in control of the presidential palace, state radio and television, and the main airport in the capital, Bujumbura.

He says the president is back in Burundi after traveling to Tanzania for a regional summit Wednesday, though he did not specify Mr. Nkurunziza's location.

VOA's Gabe Joselow Describes Scene in Burundi After Coup Announcement

Earlier, General Godefroid Niyombare told several private Burundian radio stations that the president had been dismissed and that he will form a temporary committee, of which he is the president, to restore national harmony and unity.

Major General Godefroid Niyombare addresses the nation inside the Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) broadcasting studios in Burundi's capital Bujumbura, May 13, 2015.

“Given the necessity to preserve the country's integrity … President Pierre Nkurunziza is dismissed from his functions,” Niyombare read in a statement on Bonesha FM radio.

Niyombare made his declaration to reporters at a military barracks in Bujumbura, and was surrounded by several other senior officers in the army and police, including a former defense minister, Reuters reported.

Tens of thousands of Burundians, including soldiers, took to the streets to celebrate the announcement. Airports and all borders are closed, according to a report from a private radio station.

WATCH: Burundians celebrate after coup announcement

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the U.S. is following the developments in Burundi closely.

"We call on all sides to lay down arms, end the violence and show restraint just as Burundian authorities have a responsibility to restore the necessary conditions to hold credible elections," Earnest said.

"We are particularly focused on ensuring that Burundian officials respect the basic democratic procedures and practices as they seek to govern that country. And there are legitimate concerns right now that that's not happening.," he said, adding that the U.S. still considers Nkurunziza to be the president.

The five-nation East African Community has condemned the coup attempt.

The EAC, which also includes leaders from Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, is holding a summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to discuss the situation.

"We continue to support the efforts of regional leaders who are meeting right now in Tanzania to take all necessary actions to restore peace and unity in Burundi," Earnest said.

Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the top U.S. diplomat for Africa, is participating in meetings on the sidelines of the EAC ministerial in order to express U.S. concern about the situation in Burundi as well as U.S. support for the Arusha Agreement and political dialogue among all parties to ensure peaceful, credible and inclusive elections in Burundi, according to a statement from the U.S. State Department.

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Burundi has been rocked by protests since April 26, when President Nkurunziza announced he will run for a third term. Clashes between police and protesters have killed at least 14 people and injured more than 200.

There were more clashes between police and protesters Wednesday before the coup attempt, which follows weeks of tension since Nkurunziza announced he would run for a third term.

Burundi

Independence: July 1, 1962, from U.N. trusteeship under Belgian administration

Location: Central Africa; borders Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda, Tanzania

Size: 27,830 square kilometers (17,292 square miles); worldwide, ranks 147th in size

Population: 10,395,931 (July 2014 est.)

Capital: Bujumbura; population, 707,000 (2014 est.)

President: Pierre Nkurunziza, took office August 26, 2005

Term limits: Burundi's existing political structures were founded on the 2000 Arusha agreement, which brought to an end the civil war between Hutu and Tutsi factions that had killed up to 300,000 people.

That agreement states the president can serve no more than two terms in office. But the 2005 constitution states the president must be elected through “universal direct suffrage” – interpreted to mean a popular vote. Nkurunziza was elected by parliament to his first term, so, his supporters argue, he is eligible to run again.

Protests: Protests began in April, after supporters of Nkurunziza urged him to run for a third term; elections are scheduled for June 26. The demonstrations have turned violent, with the government reporting at least 14 deaths as of May 12.

Source: CIA World Factbook

​At least 14 people have been killed and more than 200 injured in protests since the president's announcement weeks ago.

Critics say a third term would be unconstitutional, while the president and his supporters insist it is legal because he was chosen by lawmakers, not a general election, for his first five-year term in 2005.

Burundi's constitutional court has ruled in the president's favor.

The officer at the head of Wednesday's coup attempt, General Niyombare, is a respected figure who was fired from his position as Burundi's intelligence chief in February.

France has requested the U.N. Security Council hold emergency talks on Burundi. VOA's Margaret Besheer says those talks are not likely until later Wednesday or Thursday morning.

Aru Pande contributed to this report from the White House. Some material for this report came from AP, Reuters and AFP.

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