Burundi revenge begins; coup plotters ‘severely beaten’, radio chief flees amidst crackdown – polls delay likely
Following the failed coup in Burundi, the feared revenge action by the government seems to have started.
Seventeen alleged coup plotters, including a former defence minister and two top police commissioners, also appeared before a state prosecutor to face accusations of “attempting to overthrow the state”, but their lawyer alleged they had been severely beaten.
Among the 17 alleged coup plotters who appeared before a prosecutor in the capital on Saturday were General Cyrille Ndayirukiye and top police commissioners Zenon Ndabaneze and Hermenegilde Nimenya.
“They were seriously beaten, in particular General Ndayirukiye,” lawyer Anatole Miburo said, adding that the general had been forced to record a confession for broadcast on state media.
The Burundi government also was Saturday accused of launching a campaign of repression against independent media, the day after loyalist troops defeated an attempted coup against the central African nation’s president.
Rights activist Innocent Muhozi said journalists were being subjected to threats of arrest and even death, and that the head of the prominent independent radio station RPA had been forced to flee the country.
Parliamentary and presidential elections due to take place in Burundi in May and June also could be delayed in the wake of the coup attempt, Nkurunziza office said Sunday.
Asked if elections would go ahead as scheduled, Willy Nyamitwe, a close aide to the president, replied that delays had happened in the past and that the central African nation’s election commission “could decide to delay” the polls.
In a sign of ongoing tensions, European aid groups also evacuated their foreign staff, a diplomat said.
After two days of heavy battles, the attempt by high-ranking security and defence figures to seize power ended in failure as its leaders admitted defeat and were arrested or forced to go on the run.
Chief coup plotter Godefroid Niyombare, a general and former intelligence chief, was said to be on the run.
“They want to break the journalists’ morale. There is harassment, phone calls, threats, blacklists. Some have gone into exile, others are in hiding,” said Muhozi, head of the Burundian Press Observatory.
He said African Public Radio (RPA) boss Bob Rugurika had been threatened and had fled abroad.
Burundi’s main independent radio stations were attacked and put off the air by loyalist troops during the coup attempt, which began on Wednesday and ended on Friday morning after a failed attempt by the plotters to seize Burundi’s state broadcaster.
General Niyombare had used an independent radio station to announce his bid to overthrow Nkurunziza, and independent media have been accused of stirring weeks of protests against the president that have left around 25 people dead.
Opposition and rights groups insist that it is unconstitutional for Nkurunziza, who has been in office since 2005, to run for more than two terms. He has also been accused of intimidating opponents and failing to lift the fortunes of the impoverished country.
The president, however, argues his first term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people. A former rebel leader from the Hutu majority, Nkurunziza is also a born-again Christian who believes he ascended to the presidency with divine backing.
In his speech broadcast by state media, in which he thanked loyal security forces, Nkurunziza called for an immediate end to what he called “uprisings” against his third term.
“They’ll come at night and kill us”
Some activists said protests would restart on Monday, although other residents said they were afraid for their lives if civil unrest on the streets kicked off again. The militia-like youth wing of Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FDD party was particularly feared.
“We are all scared,” said Ghislaine, a 28-year-old housewife. “They destroyed the radio station so we have no idea what is happening and we’re afraid they’ll come at night and kill us.”
The coup attempt had raised fears of a return to widespread violence in the country, which is still recovering from a 13-year civil war that ended in 2006 and left hundreds of thousands dead.
More than 100,000 Burundians have fled the violence to neighbouring nations, the United Nations said Friday.
Nkurunziza on Sunday made his first official appearance since an attempted coup against him this week, AFP reporters said.
He made only a brief statement at the presidential palace in Bujumbura to journalists with no mention of the country’s political crisis.
Nkurunziza spoke only about reported threats from Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Al-Shabaab militants, who have warned of attacks against Burundi and other states that contribute troops to the African Union force in Somalia.
“We have taken measures against Al-Shabaab. We take this threat seriously,” said the president, who was dressed in a blue blazer and polo shirt.