Fierce fighting near Burundi state broadcaster building

Rival soldiers battle for control of national TV and radio compound in the capital following coup attempt.

Supporters and opponents of Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza have clashed near the state broadcaster’s headquarters in the capital Bujumbura.

The fighting on Thursday comes a day after Major General Godefroid Niyombare, the country’s former intelligence chief, said he had deposed Nkurunziza in a coup while the president was on a trip to neighbouring Tanzania.

That claim was rebuked by Army Chief of Staff General Prime Niyongabo who said the coup attempt had failed.

Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from Bujumbura, said those fighting at the national radio and TV compound include rival factions within the army.

“We understand there are several dozen heavily armed soldiers who are loyal to Nkurunziza and a greater number of soldiers outside supporting the coup,” he said.

Supporters and opponents of the president were making competing claims about who controlled the area, Webb said, adding radio broadcasting networks were among the few means of information reporting on the current situation in the country.

“Radio stations have the ability to broadcast nationwide and are crucial at this stage. This is not a very developed country, it’s one of the poorest in Africa,” he said.

“Whoever controls the radio staions and says they are in power is probably 70 to 80 percent on the way to actually making that come true.”

Conflicting claims

The clashes come amid a flurry of rumours over the status of the attempted coup, the whereabouts of Nkurunziza, and who remains in control of the central African nation.

Niyombare said on Wednesday he had launched the coup after weeks of violent protests against Nkurunziza’s controversial bid for a third term. 

The general ordered the closure of Bujumbura airport and the landlocked nation’s borders, and declared he had the support of “many” high-ranking army and police officials.

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Rival general, Niyongabo, said the coup had been stopped and that pro-Nkurunziza forces controlled the presidential office and palace.

“The national defence force calls on the mutineers to give themselves up,” he added on state radio, also under the control of forces loyal to the president.

A spokesman for the anti-Nkurunziza camp, Burundi’s police commissioner Venon Ndabaneze, told AFP the claim was false and that his side was in control of facilities, including Bujumbura’s international airport.

“This message does not surprise us because the general has long been allied to the forces of evil and lies,” he said. 

Padraic MacOireachtaigh, a freelance journalist based in Bujumbura, told Al Jazeera it was difficult to identify who the army was fighting against, though it “seems to be another army-backed faction loyal to the president”.

Confusion remains over the whereabouts of Nkurunziza, whose attempt to return home from neighbouring Tanzania after the coup was announced was blocked by opponents who seized the airport.

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On Wednesday, hundreds of people took to the streets in celebration after the coup announcement, shouting “Victory!” and sounding car horns.

The crisis has raised fears of a return to widespread violence in the country, which is still recovering from a brutal 13-year civil war that ended in 2006.

Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the conflict, marked by massacres between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsis, although there is no apparent ethnic dimension to the recent violence. 

Source: Al Jazeera, News Agencies