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Burundi On The Brink As Opposing Forces Fight For Strategic Media Outlets

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Burundi is on the brink of another civil war as rival groups of soldiers are vying for control of the capital Bujumbura amidst confusion over the success of an attempted coup.

On Thursday, May 14, 2015 there was heavy fighting at the state radio building,  where broadcasts have been going on and off air.

Sources have said soldiers loyal to President Pierre Nkurunziza controlled key areas, including the airport.

The unrest began in the eastern African country weeks ago when Mr Nkurunziza announced he was seeking a third term. This aroused nationwide opposition to his ambition on the basis that the bid contravenes theconstitution.

The whereabouts of the embattled president remain unknown. Some reports say he is still in Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, where he had travelled to attend a summit.

The coup was announced by Major General Godefroid Niyombare, a former intelligence chief and ally of the president, on Wednesday, May 13, 2015.

“The masses vigorously and tenaciously reject President Nkurunziza’s third-term mandate.

President Pierre Nkurunziza has been relieved of his duties,” he said in a radio broadcast.

Thousands of people took to the streets to celebrate, marching on the centre of Bujumbura alongside soldiers.

However forces loyal to the president came out to oppose the coup. Sporadic gunfire is still being heard in parts of Bujumbura and many business premises have remained closed .

Roads have been barricaded and only a few vehicles are on the empty streets, mainly emergency service vehicles attending to those injured in the on-and-off shooting.

Agence France-Presse reports that a general supporting the coup said that troops had been ordered to take the loyalist-held state radio building with a full armoured assault.

The RTBN radio station had earlier broadcast a message from  Nkurunziza condemning the coup.

“I thank soldiers who are putting things in order, and I forgive any soldier who decides to surrender,” he said.

But an employee there then told AFP: “We are being attacked. It is very heavy. The transmitter has been cut. We cannot transmit.”

Shortly afterwards the station resumed broadcasting music, with a military source telling the BBC loyalists were back in control.

Control of the national broadcaster is key because it is the only outlet still broadcasting outside the capital

The two private radio stations have been shut down. The most popular – Radio Publique Africaine – was burnt down overnight after broadcasting General Niyobare’s coup announcement.

Unrest began on Sunday, April 26, 2015 after the 51-year-old president said he would run for re-election in June.

He argued that he was entitled to a third term because he was first appointed to the role by parliament in 2005, rather than being elected.

The constitution states a president can only be elected to two terms in office, but earlier this month the country’s constitutional court upheld  President Nkurunziza’s interpretation.

More than 20 people have died and tens of thousands of Burundians have fled to neighbouring states since the unrest began.

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