An attempt earlier this week to overthrow Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza ended in failure on Friday as coup leaders admitted defeat and were either arrested or forced to go on the run.
Earlier this week, General Godefroid Niyombare launched a coup in the Central African nation as the country’s president was in neighbouring Tanzania to participate in regional talks on the on-going crisis in Burundi. On Friday a spokesman for the president confirmed that Burundian forces have arrested General Nyiombare. Earlier in the day, a senior police official had indicated “General Niyombare has evaded us but we know where he is hiding,” adding that he is believed to have fled to a southern district of the capital. Two senior army officers and a police general, who have been accused of taking part in the attempted coup, have been arrested.
The dramatic end to the coup attempt effectively ended 48 hours of uncertainty as questions arose who was in charge of the country, which in recent weeks has been gripped by a political crisis over President Nkurunziza’s controversial bid to stand for a third consecutive term in office. Wednesday’s coup announcement resulted in international criticism. In emergency talks on the crisis on Thursday, the United Nations Security Council condemned the coup attempt and called for a swift return to the rule of law. The United States State Department indicated that Nkurunziza remained the legitimate president.
On Friday, the presidency announced that President Nkurunziza was back in the capital Bujumbura and that he will soon address the nation. According to an aide to the president, “he is in Bujumbura in a very secure place,” adding that he will address the nation today. The streets of Bujumbura were mostly calm, following fighting that erupted on Thursday between loyalist troops and forces supporting the General. On the ground sources have reported that police set up checkpoints along a highway in the southern region of the country. Protesters have indicated that they will return to the streets, a move that will likely lead to more clashes.
Violent protests have continued since Sunday in Burundi, with a spokesman for the country’s president announcing that President Pierre Nkurunziza will continue with his bid for a third term in office.
On Wednesday, a telecoms official disclosed that authorities have cut mobile access to several social networks and messaging applications. Networks including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, which have been used to organize protests, were no longer accessible via mobile telephone in the capital on Wednesday, with officials providing no explanation for the service cut. A telecoms source confirmed that operators had been ordered in writing by Burundi’s telecommunications regulator, ARCT, to block mobile access to certain sites.
The move to block mobile access to certain social networks and messaging applications came after three days of violent protests in the capital Bujumbura. On Tuesday, anti-government protests continued, with police reinforcements boosting the numbers of security forces deployed to the streets. While protesters remained defiant, most were contained in the side streets and were blocked from the city’s center. On the ground sources have reported that protesters burned tires and erected street barricades in the capital. On Monday, the ruling party indicated that the protests in the capital are “nothing short of rebellion.” Officials have accused the opposition of trying to make the country ungovernable.
This week’s protests in Burundi erupted on Sunday, a day after the country’s president was nominated as the ruling party’s candidate for a third term in office, a move that has prompted complaints from the opposition and drawn criticism from the United States. Security was tightened across the capital city as the ruling CNDD-FDD opened a special party congress, during which President Nkurunziza was officially designated as the party’s candidate. Opposition figures have indicated that the move is unconstitutional and have warned President Nkurunziza that his efforts to remain in power will push the country back into violence. They have vowed to defy a nationwide ban on demonstrations and warnings that the army could be deployed. Washington has also condemned Nkurunzia’s candidacy, warning that the central African nation “is losing an historic opportunity to strengthen its democracy.”
Despite this, a spokesman for President Pierre Nkurunziza stated Tuesday that the president will continue his bid for a third term in office. Presidential communications chief Willy Nyamitwe stated that “we wont back down, that is out of the question,” adding that he blamed demonstrators for the violence. The government has banned all protests and has deployed large numbers of police and troops onto the streets, with on the ground sources reporting that police have fired live ammunition, tear gas and water canons at protesters. Hundreds of stone-throwing protesters have been arrested. Officials have indicated that at least five people have died since clashes broke out Sunday. Sources have disclosed that some of the protesters killed were shot at close range. Police officials have indicated that at least 37 officers have been wounded.
According to the United Nations, more than 5,000 Burundians have fled to Rwanda over the weekend, effectively bringing the total number of arrivals in April to nearly 21,000. The Rwandan government has warned that the number of arrivals could increase to 50,000 as tensions in neighboring Burundi continue to rise. Ariane Rummery, spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, has disclosed that most of the new arrivals in Rwanda are women and children, noting that the refugees have reported facing intimidation and threats of violence that are linked to the upcoming elections. According to the UNHCR, since the beginning of this month 3,800 Burundian nationals have also fled to the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Presidential elections in Burundi are due to be held on 26 June.
Interpol has issued a global security alert linked to a suspected al-Qaeda involvement in a string of recent prison outbreaks that have taken place in Iraq, Libya and Pakistan. The alert comes just days after the United States State Department issued a global travel alert and closed a number of Embassies because of fears of an unspecified al-Qaeda attack.
Citing prison breaks in three countries, Interpol has requested that its members examine whether or not al-Qaeda militants were behind the prison breaks. The police agency is also asking that member countries “swiftly process any information linked to these events.” In a statement that was released on Saturday, the French-based agency stated that “with suspected al-Qaeda involvement in several of the breakouts which led to the escape of hundreds of terrorists and other criminals, the Interpol alert requests the organizations 190 member countries‘ assistance in order to determine whether any of these recent events re coordinated or linked.” It also calls for Interpol to be informed “if any escaped terrorist is located or intelligence developed which could help prevent another terrorist attack.” The most recent escape occurred in north-west Pakistan, in which 248 prisoners escaped from a jail. On 30 July, Taliban militants used automatic weapons and bombs in order to break down the walls of the jail in Dera Ismail Khan. At least thirteen people, including six police officers, were killed during the attack. Authorities have since indicated that thirty of those who fled were “hardened militants” who were jailed for their involvement in a number of suicide bombings and other serious attacks. Meanwhile on 22 July, hundreds of inmates escaped from two jails in Iraq: Abu Ghraib, located to the west of Baghdad; and Taji, located to the north. Bombs and mortar fire were used to break into those two prisons in which al-Qaeda members were amongst those being housed in the facility.
US Extends Embassy Closure
Meanwhile the United States has announced that it will keep a number of embassies in northern Africa and in the Middle East closed until Saturday, due to a possible militant threat. After an announcement on Friday pertaining to a possible threat, twenty-one US embassies were closed on Sunday. On Monday, the State Department in Washington indicated that the extension of closures were “out of abundance of caution,” and not in reaction to a new threat. With the State Department announcing that the potential for an al-Qaeda-inspired attack being particularly strong in the Middle East and North Africa, the global travel alert will be in force until the end of August. Although US diplomatic missions in Algiers, Kabul and Baghdad remained open on Monday, its diplomatic posts in Abu Dhabi, Amman, Cairo, Riyadh, Dhahran, Jeddah, Doha, Dubai, Kuwait, Manama, Muscat, Sanaa and Tripoli will remain closed until Saturday. African missions including Antananarivo, Bujumbura, Djibouti, Khartoum, Kigali, and Port Louis are also on the list of closures. The US embassy in Tel Aviv, along with two consulates in Jerusalem and Haifa, were also closed on Sunday.
It is evident that security at US diplomatic facilities remains a concern following last year’s attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya, where the US ambassador, along with three other Americans, were killed. Officials in the United Kingdom also announced over the weekend that its embassy in Yemen would remain closed until the Muslim festival of Eid which will occur on Thursday. The UK Foreign Office is also advising against all travel to Yemen and is strongly urging British nationals in the country to leave. Several other European countries have also temporarily closed their missions in Yemen.
The embassy closures and US global travel alert came after the US reportedly intercepted al-Qaeda messages suggesting that they were between senior figures within the militant group who were plotting an attack against an embassy. While the details of the threat have remained unspecified, it is evident that those members of Congress who have been briefed on the intelligence, seem to agree that it amounts to one of the most serious in recent years, effectively pointing to the possibility of a major attack which may coincide with the end of the holy month of Ramadan, which ends this week.
In recent years, al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, which is known as al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), has attempted to carry out several high profile attacks, including one on Christmas Day in 2009 in which a man attempted to blow up a trans-Atlantic jet over Detroit, using explosives that were sewn into his underwear. Months earlier, the militant group had also attempted to assassinate the Saudi intelligence chief by using a bomb that was attached to the attacker’s body.