BUJUMBURA, Burundi – President Pierre Nkurunziza thanked his security forces for crushing a military coup that tried to topple him, and he urged an immediate halt to the protests that have erupted in Burundi in recent weeks since he decided to seek a third term.
Nkurunziza’s motorcade rolled into the capital on Friday and he returned to the presidential palace, said his spokesman, Gervais Abayeho. The president did not appear in public.
His jubilant supporters cheered his return and the failure of the coup. Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare, a former intelligence chief, had announced Wednesday while Nkurunziza was in Tanzania that he had relieved the president of his duties.
That triggered fierce fighting in the capital between his forces and those loyal to Nkurunziza. The city was calm but tense Friday, with many businesses closed. Some residents who don’t support the government emerged from their homes to resume protests.
Three army generals accused of trying to topple Nkurunziza were arrested when they were found hiding in a house, while another senior security official was caught at the border while trying to flee to Tanzania, Abayeho said. He added that Niyombare remained at large and a manhunt was underway.
The United States government said it was alarmed by reports of retaliatory attacks and the growing risk of violence and atrocities. U.N. officials, too, urged authorities to ensure that a campaign of reprisals do not take place against the supporters of the coup and other opponents.
The U.S. urgently called on Nkurunziza to condemn and stop the use of violence by police and the ruling party’s Imbonerakure youth militias against those who participated in protests against a third term, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said.
Washington opposes attempts to seize power unlawfully, but also believes that Nkurunziza’s decision to disregard the 2003 peace accords that ended civil war by seeking a third term “has created instability and violence,” Rathke said.
Rathke said the U.S. was taking steps to impose visa ineligibilities on those responsible for violence and called on other governments to do the same. The U.S. also warned that it cannot provide military training or assistance to units that commit human rights violations, and welcomed the decision by donors to reduce or withdraw assistance to Burundi in response to violence.
In New York, members of the U.N. Security Council called for the swift return of the rule of law and a genuine dialogue to create conditions for peaceful, transparent, inclusive and credible elections. In a statement, they also specifically condemned those who facilitate violence, and called on the Burundi authorities to address the crisis while respecting fundamental freedoms.
In his speech, which was posted on his website in Burundi’s official language of Kirundi, Nkurunziza thanked “the security and defence forces for the efficiency with which they fought the coup against the democratically elected institutions.”
He said “peace reigns throughout the country, even in Bujumbura where this small group of criminals wanted to commit the irreparable,” a reference to the coup plotters, and he added that they had been preparing their actions “for a long time, since last year and before.”
Nkurunziza called for an immediate end to all hostilities and urged dialogue.
“We therefore urge the immediate cessation of the demonstrations, that those who have claims do so in dialogue and consultation, not through force and revolt,” he said.
The protests began April 26, a day after the ruling party made Nkurunziza its presidential candidate, and at least 15 people have been killed in the unrest.
Opponents said his plan violated the constitution as well as the peace accords that ended a civil war. The constitution states a president can be popularly elected to two five-year terms, but Nkurunziza maintains he can run for a third because parliament voted him into office the first time, leaving him open to be popularly elected to two terms.
More than 105,000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries recently, according to the U.N., and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned Friday that the country is at risk of descending further into chaos.
He urged authorities to ensure that the instigators of the failed coup are not harmed and that there are no reprisals against their perceived supporters, journalists, human rights activists and the many civilian protesters.
At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta about Burundi and emphasized the need for regional leaders “to join efforts to help resolve the crisis,” said deputy spokesman Farhan Haq. Ban plans to talk to Nkurunziza and other regional leaders in the coming days, he added.
Haq then summarized Ban’s statement from Thursday that urged “all political and security leaders to clearly and openly reject the use of violence, refrain from acts of revenge and rein in their militants.”
Nkurunziza’s motorcade drove to Bujumbura from the northern city of Ngozi, where he was greeted by many supporters after returning from Tanzania, Abayeho said.
Smoke was still billowing from the building housing the Radio Publique Africaine, which was among four popular independent radio stations and a TV station attacked in the fighting.
The national broadcaster that the coup plotters tried to seize was heavily guarded by army personnel, and many police checkpoints were set up along a highway in southern Burundi.
The U.S. Embassy was closed Friday, a day after the State Department ordered the departure of nonemergency government personnel and dependents of embassy staff. Rathke said the U.S. could offer only limited emergency services to U.S. citizens and underscored a travel warning urging all Americans to leave Burundi as quickly as possible.
Dozens of Nkurunziza supporters turned out in the Kamenge area of the capital to celebrate his return, blowing whistles and carrying balloons with the ruling party colours.
Supporter Aloys Ntabankana said they were happy over Nkurunziza’s return, and he decried those who tried to oust him.
“The thing they wanted to do in Burundi would have sunk Burundi into chaos. It would have been a civil war. People would have died because of the coup against Nkurunziza,” he added.
Burundi descended into civil war in 1993 following the army assassination of the country’s first democratically elected President Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu. That conflict, which opened longstanding ethnic tensions between majority Hutus and minority Tutsis, lasted until 2005.
Nkurunziza, a Hutu, took over as president and embarked on a campaign of ethnic reconciliation and economic rehabilitation. But a youth wing of his party has been accused of human rights violations, including killing political opponents.
WATCH: Protests in Burundi