Burundi protesters on streets after African leaders seek poll delay


Police fired on protesters who took to the streets of Burundi’s capital on Tuesday in renewed protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term in office, witnesses said.

Protesters said they were angry that a weekend summit of African leaders had not urged Nkurunziza to halt his bid but only urged a delay in elections.

Witnesses in Cibitoke and Musaga, two volatile districts of Bujumbura, said the police shot at protesters in the morning. One demonstrator in Musaga was wounded in the clashes and four others arrested, witnesses said.

Police have routinely denied shooting any protesters, who have often burned tyres and hurled rocks at security forces during several weeks of unrest.

Opponents of the president say he is violating the constitution by running, while supporters say a constitutional court ruling allows him to enter the race again. The crisis is the worst since the end of an ethnically fuelled civil war in 2005.

Presidential spokesman Gervais Abayeho said on Monday the government was receptive to the idea of shifting the poll, as requested by regional leaders meeting in Dar es Salaam on Sunday.
“The Dar es Salaam summit was a failure because the issue that forced people on the streets is the third term of Nkurunziza,” said Claver, a protester in Musaga who declined to give his full name for fear of government reprisals.

Diplomats have said the longer unrest continues the more chance old ethnic wounds are reopened. The civil war pitted the army, which was then led by the Tutsi minority, against majority Hutu rebel groups, including one led by Nkurunziza. The violence has rattled a region with a history of ethnic conflict.

The government has called the protests, which erupted on April 26, an insurrection and detained scores of people.

Civil society activists say at least 30 people have been killed in the unrest.

Parliamentary and local council elections have already been delayed by more than a week to June 5, although experts say it will be difficult to meet that deadline now. A presidential poll is set for June 26 and a senate vote for July 17.

The East African Community – comprising Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi – joined by South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma called for a delay of “at least” month and a half for “the elections”, without giving specifics.

The opposition has called for a delayed and says it will boycott the June 5 poll. Some opposition politicians say the votes should still be held before the president’s current term runs out on Aug. 26.

The European Union and Burundi’s influential Roman Catholic Church last week pulled out from observing elections, saying the vote cannot be fair because of unrest and a crackdown on media.