BURUNDI’S President Pierre Nkurunziza has appeared relaxed and confident in his first official appearance since an attempted coup.
The president greeted reporters at the presidency in Bujumbura’s city centre, and gave only a brief statement without even mentioning this week’s attempt to overthrow him.
Mr Nkurunziza has been facing weeks of violent and deadly street protests over his controversial bid to stand for a third consecutive term in office.
On Wednesday, a group of top generals announced they were overthrowing him while he was on a visit to neighbouring Tanzania.
But on Friday the coup leaders admitted defeat, having failed to capture the state broadcaster after fierce fighting with loyalist troops.
Seventeen alleged plotters, including a former defence minister and two top police commissioners, appeared in court on Saturday while the alleged ringleader is still said to be on the run.
Mr Nkurunziza ignored the coup attempt and spoke only about reported threats from Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked Shebab militants, who have warned of mounting attacks against Burundi and other states that contribute troops to the African Union force in Somalia.
“We have taken measures against al-Shebab,” the president said. “We take this threat seriously.”
“We are very preoccupied by al-Shabab’s well-known attack. You know that Burundi has contributed to sending troops to Somalia so we came here to contact our friends and colleagues here in Kenya as well as in Uganda,” Mr Nkurunziza said. “Both are privileged targets for al-Shabab. The agenda is to put in place proactive measures to face these attacks that are a security risk to the citizens of Burundi.”
Addressing the domestic crisis, Willy Nyamitwe, a close aide to the president, said Burundi’s election commission “could decide to delay” Burundi’s parliamentary and presidential votes.
“We will put everything in place for the laws and constitution to be respected and for elections to be held within the time limit set out,” he said.
Mr Nyamitwe insisted a delay would not be used as a pretext for Mr Nkurunziza to prolong his rule.
Parliamentary elections are due to take place on May 26, and presidential polls on June 26. Nyamitwe suggested they could be delayed by “two or three days, by a week”.
Opposition and rights groups insist that Mr Nkurunziza’s bid for a third consecutive five-year term is against the constitution and the terms of the peace deal that brought an end to the country’s civil war in 2006.
The president has also been accused of intimidating opponents and failing to lift the fortunes of one of the poorest countries in the world.
Mr Nkurunziza, however, argues that his first term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people.
Bujumbura was calm on Sunday, although civil society and opposition activists have vowed to resume street protests on Monday.
Weeks of protests have already left at least 20 people dead.