Heavily armed soldiers were deployed in Burundi’s capital on Monday to quell persistent street protests against the president’s bid for a third term, which sparked a coup attempt that was foiled last week.
In Bujumbura’s Musaga neighbourhood armed soldiers faced off with hundreds of angry protesters who called for President Pierre Nkurunziza to reverse his decision to seek another term in office, which many say is unconstitutional.
An Associated Press reporter in Musaga, where protesters put up barricades of burning tires, saw two soldiers fire into a crowd of protesters, who had repeatedly shouted, “Shoot us.” No injured demonstrators were seen. The soldiers who fired the shots were then ordered to leave the front line.
“The military is shooting at us, you have seen for yourselves. They came here pushing and shoving us and also doing the same to journalists then they shot,” said protester Alfred Nsengumukiza.
No police were seen in Musaga, a sign that the army, which previously had acted as a buffer between angry protester s and the police, has now taken over operations against demonstrators who have staged almost daily protests against the president for more than three weeks. The soldiers are armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenade launchers.
Seventeen security officials, including five generals, accused in the attempted coup were charged Saturday with attempting to destabilize public institutions, said lawyers of some of the suspects. Major General Godefroid Niyombare, the former intelligence chief who announced the coup on Wednesday, remains at large.
Nkurunziza, who was in Tanzania for a summit to discuss his nation’s troubles when the coup attempt was announced, made his first public appearance in Bujumbura on Sunday.
On Monday protesters emerged again in three neighbourhoods of Bujumbura, including Nyakabiga and Cibitoke, despite Nkurunziza urging residents to stop protesting so parliamentary elections can take place later this month.
The protests began on April 26, a day after the ruling party made Nkurunziza its presidential candidate in elections set for June 26.
More than 105 000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries recently, according to the UN.