Burundi’s president removed from power


A group calling itself the young patriots removed President Pierre Buyoya from power and suspended Parliament on Thursday while he was out of the country to hold peace talks with the main rebel leader, state radio reported.

The radio did not further identify who was behind the coup, but declared a curfew effective at 8:00 p.m. (1800 GMT). There were no reports of violence in the capital. Buyoya was believed to be in Libreville, Gabon, for peace talks with the leader of the main rebel group fighting the government in the country’s 7 1/2-year-old civil war.

Buyoya himself took power in a coup in July 1996, promising to end the civil war that has left more than 200,000 people dead. He signed a power-sharing agreement last August with Hutu opposition leaders, but the talks mediated by former South African President Nelson Mandela did not include the Hutu rebels fighting the Tutsi-dominated government.

Buyoya was in Gabon to meet with Jean-Bosco Ndayikengurukiye, the leader of the main rebel group, the Forces for the Defense of Democracy. He was expected to return to Burundi on Thursday. Congolese President Joseph Kabila, who was using his influence with the rebels to get them to the negotiating table, left Libreville on Wednesday.

There are 17 political parties participating in the power-sharing talks, 10 Tutsi and 7 Hutu. Tutsi hard-liners have opposed any talks with the rebels and rumors of a coup have been rampant since Buyoya signed the power-sharing agreement last August in Arusha, Tanzania, in the presence of then-U.S. President Bill Clinton.

The power-sharing plan called for an ethnically balanced army and legislature. But Hutu rebels have refused to endorse the agreement and have not attended peace talks.