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Burundi’s Response to Coup Said to be Brutal as Embattled President Reclaims Control

Several leaders involved in the attempted coup in Burundi were taken to court on Saturday, but reports of torture, beatings, and violence are already emerging.

by Colleen Curry
May 16 2015, 8:00pm

Photo by Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

A relative calm returned to the streets of Burundi's capital on Saturday, with President Pierre Nkurunziza reclaiming control of the country and declaring that an attempted military coup to overthrow him had been quashed.

Unrest has gripped the country since Nkurunziza announced on April 25 that he would seek a third term in office despite a two-term limit set by the constitution. The president's decision to seek re-election sparked daily protests and widespread violence in a government crackdown, leading thousands to flee to neighboring Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

On Wednesday, several of Burundi's top military leaders announced a coup while Nkurunziza was out of the country. The attempted ouster sparked clashes between Nkurunziza loyalists and coup supporters, who failed to seize control of the state radio network in a battle that reportedly left 12 soldiers dead and dozens wounded.

Nkurunziza returned to the country on Friday, by which point his security forces had reportedly crushed the coup effort and arrested most of the military leaders responsible. The response to the coup was said to be brutal.

Related: Burundi's President Is Back Home While Leaders of Attempted Coup Admit Defeat

Reuters reported that 18 leaders involved in the attempted coup were taken to court on Saturday. Family members of two men who were arrested for their involvement in the plot told Reuters that they were beaten in their jail cells.

A lawyer for the coup plotters reportedly said his clients were tortured. Another report quoted a surgeon at a hospital in the capital as saying that police stormed into the emergency room Friday, shooting and killing patients as they searched for people injured in the coup attempt. The fate of Gen. Godefroid Niyombare, the leader of the attempted coup, still remains unclear.

Related: Crowds Cheer Apparent Coup in Burundi — But Celebration Might Be Premature

Nkurunziza asked citizens to remain calm Friday after days of confusion and unrest, though there have been reports that a small group of protesters returned to the streets of Bujumbura, the capital. The government previously banned all demonstrations.

The United Nations estimates that more than 100,000 Burundians have fled the country due to the recent unrest. The country's previous conflict claimed 300,000 lives during 12 years of ethnically-charged fighting that ended in 2005. Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader, took office after being appointed by parliament at the end of the war. The country's ruling political party, CNDD-FDD, nominated Nkurunziza to run for a third term, arguing that because he was appointed to his first term he could legally seek another term by election.

The election is currently set for June. 

Follow Colleen Curry on Twitter: @currycolleen