Violence has erupted in the capital of the African state of Burundi amid growing concern over the president’s re-election and claims of a coup.
Witnesses claim that police opened fire on a large group of protesters earlier today, using tear gas and live ammunition to disperse the increasingly angry crowds in the centre of capital city Bujumbura.
It is the worst flashpoint of violence following weeks of protest over 51-year-old President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third five-year term in office.
Opponents of the president claim that his decision is unconstitutional, according to an agreement laid down in 2005 after a bitter civil war ravaged the nation that borders Rwanda – and which shares a similar ethnic make-up.
A top army officer general reportedly “dismissed” President Nkurunziza earlier today, telling reporters: “President Nkurunziza is dismissed, his government is dismissed too".
The statement was immediately labelled “a joke” by the president’s media advisor - but later the same day Major General Godefroid Niyombare claimed he was working with civil society groups, religious leaders and politicians to form a transitional government.
The general, who claimed President Nkurunziza had violated the constitution, had his remarks broadcast across the country. Reuters reported that following the broadcast more people came onto the streets to cheer the announcement.
It remains unclear who is in control of Burundi, ranked as one of the poorest countries in the world, with a South African spokesperson telling Reuters that it was "way too early too say".
Journalist Gabe Joselow, East Africa Bureau Chief for Voice of America, tweeted shortly after the general's anouncement: "Shooting in streets of Bujumbura. This thing is not over."
Earlier today several hundred protesters managed to get within half a mile of the presidency when the police opened fire and used tear gas, the BBC reported.
This account was seconded by freelance journalist Melanie Gouby, who was with the crowds, and who reported live rounds being fired as protesters threw rocks at police.
She later tweeted: “Grenades thrown, protesters have Molotov cocktails, water canon tank keeps falling back and protesters gaining ground”.
Meanwhile, Reuters reports that according to Burundi’s Red Cross estimates at least 15 people have been killed and 220 injured since the unrest erupted two weeks ago.
The latest upheavals come as the continents’ heavyweights, including a top official from South Africa and potentially ousted President Nkurunziza, meet in neighbouring Tanzania to discuss the situation.
UN organisation UNHCR claims that as many as 50,000 people have already fled the densely populated nation, warning that as many as 300,000 more could flee as the crisis headed towards a “worst case scenario”.
African leaders, among them Rwanda’s President Paul Kagame, have been urged by protesters to dissuade President Nkurunziza from his bid - but given recent events it appears uncertain what form the talks may take.
The Hutu president’s decision to seek a third term – which he claims is constitutional as he was appointed, rather than elected, in his first – has been widely condemned by international observers.
Burundi, formerly a Belgium colony, has seen many of its backers withdraw aid over concern for the up-coming elections impartiality.
Both the African Union and the US – who is a major contributor to the nation’s army – have said that President Nkurunziza should not seek a third term, with the United States stating the police must stop using “violent force” against protesters.
Additional reporting by Reuters and Associated Press
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