Burundi's president takes to Facebook to declare coup 'fanciful'

Burundi's president, out of the country for a meeting on his country's crisis, faces attempted coup

The president's office in Burundi took to Twitter after an attempted military coup Wednesday, first to deny there had been an attempted takeover and then to announce there had been one but it failed.

After a top general announced on the radio that President Pierre Nkurunziza had been overthrown, the presidency tweeted that the situation was under control and there was no coup. It then tweeted again, tagging several journalists stating that the attempted coup had failed.

The presidency then issued a statement on Facebook, declaring the coup to be “fanciful” and announcing those responsible would be arrested and face justice. It said steps had been taken to maintain national security and called for calm.

It was not clear as night fell Wednesday who would end up in control of the nation.

Burundi, situated in one of East Africa’s most volatile regions, is experiencing its worst crisis since the end of civil war in 2006, triggered by Nkurunziza’s determination to seek a third five-year term in office.

The country has seen weeks of protests over his bid, which opponents say violates the constitution and the Arusha Agreement, which ended the war. Nkurunziza’s supporters contend there’s no violation because he was elected by parliament in his first term of office, not by the public.

With Nkurunziza in Tanzania, where African leaders were holding a crisis meeting to discuss the situation in his country, Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombareh announced Wednesday that the president had been overthrown and a “salvation committee” had been set up to rule. The general had been sacked by Nkurunziza as intelligence chief in February.

"Active forces of the nation have decided to take charge of the country," Niyombareh in a radio address. He said that the aim was to "restore national unity and resume the electoral process in a peaceful and fair environment.” In a statement to reporters at an air base, he accused the president of “arrogance and defiance of the international community.” Later, he announced that the airport and borders had been closed.

At least 20 people have been killed in recent demonstrations, as police have at times opened fire on protesters using live ammunition.

Earlier Wednesday, police fired tear gas to disperse crowds, but after the coup was announced officers melted away, as protesters celebrated in the streets, news agencies reported. There were reports of gunfire in the capital as troops surrounded the state radio station.

Nkurunziza has been under international pressure to postpone presidential elections scheduled for June 26, amid fears the unrest over his third term bid could see the country slide back into civil war. The European Union, African Union and United States have called for balloting to be postponed.

The top U.S. diplomat for Africa, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, flew to Tanzania to attend Wednesday’s emergency meeting in the capital, Dar es Salaam.

A State Department statement said she would express U.S. concern about the situation in Burundi and support the Arusha Agreement. She would press for political dialogue among all parties to ensure peaceful, credible and inclusive elections, the statement said.

U.S. officials have suggested Nkurunziza’s third term bid violates the Arusha Agreement.

African Union Chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma last week questioned in a television interview the legality of Nkurunziza’s bid for a new term.

Nkurunziza, 51, last week promised he wouldn’t seek a fourth term, but pressed ahead with his third term bid.

More than 50,000 people have fled to neighboring countries because of the unrest.

Follow @robyndixon_LAT on Twitter for news out of Africa

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times