Gun clashes rage on in Burundi as radio station attacked

The attack came amid confusion over the coup against President Pierre Nkurunziza.

Thursday May 14 2015

Smoke rises from several buildings near the port in Bujumbura on May 14, 2015 after a night marked by gunfire and explosions in various areas of the capital. Heavy fighting broke out between rival Burundian troops around the state broadcaster, military officials and witnesses said, the day after a top general launched a coup to oust President Pierre Nkurunziza.  AFP PHOTO | JENNIFER HUXTA

Smoke rises from several buildings near the port in Bujumbura on May 14, 2015 after a night marked by gunfire and explosions in various areas of the capital. Heavy fighting broke out between rival Burundian troops around the state broadcaster, military officials and witnesses said, the day after a top general launched a coup to oust President Pierre Nkurunziza. AFP PHOTO | JENNIFER HUXTA 

By MOSES HAVYARIMANA

BUJUMBURA, Thursday

Burundi's influential independent African Public Radio (RPA) station came under attack amid the confusion over the coup against President Pierre Nkurunziza.

The RPA station was hit by a rocket and set ablaze by pro-Nkurunziza police and ruling party youth, according to media boss and rights activist Innocent Muhozi.

RPA, which was closed by the government at the start of the anti-Nkurunziza protests, had only resumed broadcast a few hours earlier before it was bombed.

Several other radio stations were attacked overnight, hours after protesters torched Rema radio and television, which is associated with the ruling party.

"We condemn the attacks on media houses and they should let the media operate freely," said Mr Alexandre Niyungeko, the chair of the Burundi Journalists Union.

Mr Niyungeko pointed out that he did not know who attacked which stations, but regretted that they happened despite the army's promise of security everywhere.

Meanwhile, gun battles continued in the capital Bujumbura between those for and against the overthrow of President Nkurunziza.

The army in Burundi Wednesday announced a coup d'etat against President Nkurunziza's government.

WANT BLOODSHED

General Godefroid Niyombare, a powerful former intelligence chief, announced the coup attempt on radio hours after the president left for a Burundi mediation summit in Tanzania.

President Nkurunziza, in a Twitter message, called for calm and said the situation in the country was under control.

However, the Burundi leader remains in Dar es Salaam after soldiers behind the coup announcement took over the airport and stopped him from flying back to the country after the aborted regional summit in Tanzania.

Laurent Kavakure, Burundi's Minister of Foreign Affairs said in Dar es Salaam that the "ousted" president would be going back to Burundi later on Thursday.

The minister spoke at Serena Hotel in Dar where the Burundi leader had also been accommodated after failing to fly back to Bujumbura.

Mr Kavakure did not say how the Mr Nkurunziza would get back to the crisis-torn country. The president's whereabouts on Thursday morning was not disclosed.

Tanzania's Foreign Affairs minister Bernard Membe separately told journalists he did not know where Mr Nkurunziza was.

ARMY DIVIDED

The army is divided, with the coup plotters holding the airport while the Nkurunziza loyalists are reported to be in charge of the national radio and television.

Army Chief of Staff Maj-Gen Prime Niyongabo took to the national radio to condemn the coup.

"We are going to make sure that the army stays united and we will do our best to capture those who have declared a coup against President Nkurunziza," he said.

However, Maj-Gen Niyombare said troops under his command would seek to seize the broadcaster, seen as an important asset in mobilising national support.

"We didn't want bloodshed yesterday since it was still the first day, but what we can say is that soon we are going to attack the premises," said one of the army generals.

FACTS ON BURUNDI

  • Colonised by the Belgians, French is the most spoken language although Burundians have been slowly adopting English to be fully part of the EAC.
  • Gained independence on July 1, 1962 and established a constitutional monarch but ethnic violence between Hutus and Tutsis erupted a year later forcing thousands of Hutus to flee to neighbouring Rwanda.
    Has a gross domestic product per capita of just $268, making it the poorest country in the East African Community.
  • Burundi has only known full peace since 2008 after Nkurunziza’s government signed a ceasefire agreement with last rebel groups, Palipehutu-FNL.
  • Has had six coups and coup attempts, the first attempt against its then monarch Mwami Mwambutsa IV was in 1965 but which was violently suppressed. The last coup was in 1996 by Pierre Buyoya, the same man who had engineered a similar coup in 1988.
  • In 1966, Mwambutsa was deposed by his son Prince Ntare who would be deposed the same year by then Tutsi Prime Minister Michel Micombero in November.
  • Micombero ruled for ten years before being deposed by then Burundian Deputy Chief of Staff Jean-Baptiste Bagaza in another military coup.
  • In 1981, Burundi became a one-party state but another coup engineered by Pierre Buyoya deposed Bagaza in 1998. This would be the fourth such coup but which resulted in another spate of violence.
  • A new constitution in 1992 wasadopted after a referendum to return to multi-party system.
  • In 1993, Burundians elected Melchior Ndadaye who became the first elected President in that country’s history. He would be assassinated the same year.
  • Burundi has had one prime minister (Pierre Ngendandumwe) and two presidents assassinated; Ngendandumwe was killed in 1965 followed a political squabble over his post.
  • Mr Ndadaye was assassinated in October 1993 by Tutsi soldiers while Cyprien Ntaryamira who replaced him through a parliamentary appointment was killed after a plane which was also carrying Rwandan president Juvénal Habyarimana was shot down over Kigali in April 1994.
  • The shooting of the plane led to civil war which claimed about 250,000 Burundian lives.
  • In 1997, regional countries imposed economic sanctions for the first time on Burundi, forcing rebels to negotiate for peace in Arusha, Tanzania.
  • 17 parties signed the Arusha Accord in 2000 and in 2001, Buyoya became the transitional president.
  • In 2005, Nkurunziza was endorsed in 2005 endorsed by legislators to be president for five years in a power-sharing deal that was meant to absorb all the ethnic communities in the country
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