Burundi plotters declare emergency

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The Independent Online
KIGALI (Reuter) - Army coup leaders who ended Burundi's fledgling democracy declared a state of emergency and set up a National Salvation Committee headed by a former interior minister.

State-run radio Burundi, monitored in the capital of neighbouring Rwanda yesterday, said the committee had elected a civilian, Francois Ngeze, as head of state.

Mr Ngeze, from the majority Hutu tribe, was interior minister in the government of the military ruler Pierre Buyoya, who was defeated by President Melchior Ndadaye in Burundi's first multi-party elections in June.

Paratroops ousted Mr Ndadaye on Thursday, raising fears of a new ethnic bloodbath in the central African state of 5.6 million people, where the Tutsi minority have ruled the majority Hutu tribe for centuries.

'There is a big danger of the Hutu rising up against the army and against civilian Tutsis. This could lead to unprecedented levels of violence, turmoil in the country,' a Western diplomat said.

More than 70,000 Burundis have fled into neighbouring Rwanda after the coup, in which the president may have been executed, Belgian radio reported.

RTBF radio, quoting officials from Belgium's Red Cross, said refugees were flooding into the southern Rwandan province of Butare to escape violence.

The regional leader of Butare, Jean-Baptiste Habyarimana, said in a telephone interview from Rwanda that the military in Burundi was scouring villages to interrogate local officials.

The Health Minister, Jean Min ani, confirmed reports that the president had been killed by army rebels during the coup. 'The panic is being caused by the military,' Mr Habyarimana said.