Update as of 4:42 a.m. EDT: Forces loyal to the coup against Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza claimed to have taken control of most of the capital city of Bujumbura on Thursday, as fighting broke out across the city, according to reports.
"We control virtually the entire city. The soldiers who are being deployed are on our side," coup spokesman Venon Ndabaneze reportedly told Agence France-Presse, during a lull in fighting mid-morning.
Nkurunziza, who was in Tanzania on Wednesday for a meeting with regional leaders, was also taken to a secret location in the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam after his attempt to re-enter Burundi was blocked by coup forces, i24 News reported.
Members of Burundi’s army were divided over an attempted coup on Thursday, with the chief of the country’s armed forces announcing that the bid to oust President Pierre Nkurunziza had failed, a claim that was quickly refuted by his opponents, Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.
The statements come as Nkurunziza’s attempt to return home from a Tanzania trip was stalled when the country’s Bujumbura airport was seized by Gen. Godefroid Niyombare. His plane returned to Tanzania, BBC reported.
Niyombare, the former intelligence chief and the main coup leader, declared the coup a success on Wednesday, saying he had prevented Nkurunziza from seeking an unconstitutional third term in office. Crowds gathered in the streets to cheer Niyombare’s declaration.
However, in an overnight broadcast on state radio, Maj. Gen. Prime Niyongabo, the head of the armed forces, said the coup had been stopped and that forces loyal to Nkurunziza had taken control of the presidential office.
"The national defense force calls on the mutineers to give themselves up," Niyongabo added, according to AFP.
However, pro-coup Burundi Police Commissioner Venon Ndabaneze, refuted this claim and told AFP that his side had control of several important facilities including a major airport.
"This message does not surprise us because the general has long been allied to the forces of evil and lies," he said.
Reuters reported that there were sporadic gunshots through Wednesday and Thursday morning, with heavy fire heard near the national radio and television broadcaster early Thursday.
Meanwhile, Nkurunziza's presidential office dismissed Niyombare's claims. "We consider it as a joke, not as a military coup," presidential aide Willy Niyamitwe told Reuters.
The president was in Tanzania meeting with other East African leaders to discuss the brewing crisis.
East African leaders condemned the move, calling for a return to “constitutional order.” The U.S. State Department also called on all parties to “immediately end the violence and exercise restraint,” but spokesman Jeff Rathke said the department could not confirm whether the coup had taken place, Reuters reported.
Nkurunziza was nominated to run for a third term as president last month, a move that triggered an outcry from the country’s citizens. Weeks of protests led to deadly clashes with security forces, leaving at least 20 dead and prompting thousands to flee their homes.
Nkurunziza has been Burundi's president since 2005, coming to power at the end of an ethnic conflict between the country’s Hutu and Tutsi tribes that left an estimated 300,000 people dead.