BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Seventeen security officials, including five generals, accused in the attempted coup of Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza appeared Saturday before a prosecutor who charged them with an attempt at destabilizing public institutions, lawyers of some of the suspects said.
The suspected coup plotters are three army generals and two police generals, said Presidential spokesman Gervais Abayeho. Others are four lower-ranking officers and eight soldiers. The suspected coup leader, Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare, is still at large.
The coup attempt came amid Burundi’s turmoil over Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office. After weeks of street protests against Nkurunziza’s efforts to stay in power, Niyombare announced the coup on Wednesday. Nkurunziza was in Tanzania attending an emergency regional summit to discuss Burundi’s crisis when the attempted coup started but soldiers loyal to the president stopped the rebellion.
Lawyers representing the suspects say officials tortured them during detention.
“They have been beaten, tied with rope and they don’t have shoes and shirts,” said Miburo Anatole, an official of the Bar Association of Bujumbura. Anatole said he is representing Maj. Gen. Cyrille Ndayirukiye, a former defense minister, and two police chiefs.
Another lawyer, Cyriaque Nibitegeka, said his client, an army official, was forced to confess under gunpoint and had been denied food since the men were arrested.
He said all 17 men would be tried in a civilian court, and the charge the men face carries a maximum sentence of 15 years in prison.
Officials said Friday that Nkurunziza had returned to the capital though he hasn’t been seen in public.
Despite the failed coup against Nkurunziza, about 30 protesters said Saturday they will continue demonstrating against the leader’s bid for a third term, which they say goes against the two term limit set by the constitution.
The protesters defied Nkurunziza’s ban on demonstrations and vowed to continue to take to the streets to press the president to drop his plan to run for re-election in June.
“We are going to continue with the protests because our aim is to stop the president’s third term. We can see that they are determined to stop us but we are not getting scared and we will not stop the protests. We will continue to fight for the constitution to be respected,” said Jean Paul Ndayiragije.
Opposition leaders and members of privately owned media said they fear being targeted in a government crackdown of those suspected of involvement in a failed attempt to overthrow Nkurunziza.
Burundi’s election commission said it will review the situation in the coming week to determine whether elections should continue.
Associated Press writer Gerard Nzohabona contributed to this report.
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