By Patrick Nduwimana
BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - The head of Burundi's army said on Thursday that an attempted coup had failed and forces loyal to President Pierre Nkurunziza were in control.
Army Chief of Staff General Prime Niyongabo's announcement came a day after another general said he had sacked Nkurunziza for seeking an unconstitutional third term in office. Gunfire could still be heard in the capital, Bujumbura.
The president, who was in Tanzania for an African leaders meeting on Wednesday when the attempt to topple him was announced, called on Burundians to "remain calm" in a message delivered via the presidential website and his Twitter feed.
There was no official confirmation about the precise location of the president, who sparked more than two weeks of protests by saying he would seek another five years in office. But two Tanzanian sources said he was still in Dar es Salaam.
"The coup attempt failed, loyal forces are still controlling all strategic points," Niyongabo said in a statement broadcast on state radio.
In Burundi's civil war that ended in 2005, the army was commanded by minority Tutsis who fought against rebel groups of the majority Hutus, including one led by Nkurunziza. The military has since been reformed to absorb rival factions, but fault lines in its ranks have remained.
A journalist at the state broadcaster said heavy gunfire being was heard around the state television and radio station in the capital on Thursday morning, a Reuters witness said. Another reported loud blasts in the city.
The Reuters witness said two private radio stations and a television station were attacked by unknown men in police uniforms. The two stations were among those that carried Major General Godefroid Niyombare's announcement on Wednesday that he had sacked Nkurunziza.
Neither Niyombare nor his spokesmen were immediately available to comment.
While Niyongabo was in Tanzania, the presidency dismissed the declaration by Niyombare, who was fired as Nkurunziza's intelligence chief in February, saying on Facebook that the coup had been "foiled".
Niyombare said the capital's airport and all border crossings were closed.
The East African leaders condemned the bid to oust Niyongabo and called for a return to "constitutional order".
The continental body, the African Union, also condemned the attempted coup late on Wednesday.
"The chairperson condemns in the strongest terms today's coup attempt in Bujumbura, calls for the return to constitutional order and urges all stakeholders to exercise utmost restraint," AU Commission chairwoman Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma said in a statement.
Activists say more than 20 people have been killed in weeks of protest against Nkurunziza's re-election bid, plunging Burundi into its worst crisis since the civil war ended in 2005.
The United Nations said more than 70,000 Burundians had fled to neighbouring states in a region with a history of ethnic fighting.
Western donors, which provide vital aid to finance the budget and other institutions, have criticised Nkurunziza for running again. The United States, which trains and equips the army, called on Wednesday for all parties to end violence.
Opponents say Nkurunziza's bid for another five years in office violates a two-term limit set down in the constitution and in the peace deal that ended the civil war.
A constitutional court, however, ruled that the president could run, finding that his first term, when he was picked by parliament rather than by popular vote, did not count. Critics say the court is biased.
(Additional reporting by Aaron Maasho in Addis Ababa; Writing by George Obulutsa; Editing by Alex Richardson and Giles Elgood)