Burundian President Sticks To Third Term Bid Despite Public Outcry

PIERREDespite the recent pockets of wild protests across Burundi, Willy Nyamitwe, presidential communications chief, has said President Pierre Nkurunziza would not back down on his bid for a third term in power. “ That is out of the question,” he said. He blamed demonstrators for the violence and accused some of them of carrying guns. “ With this path of violence they have chosen, we recall the darkest years of our history”, he said.

At least, five people have died since clashes broke out Sunday after the ruling CNDD-FDD party, which has been accused of intimidating opponents, dadopted Nkurunziza as its candidate for the presidential elections to be held in the central African nation on June 26. Amid international concern, the United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday, dispatched his envoy Said Djinnit to Burundi, urging “all sides to reject violence and avoid using inflammatory language or hate speech”.

Opposition figures and rights groups say Nkurunziza’s attempt to stay in power goes against the constitution as well as the peace deal that ended a civil war in 2006. Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the 13-year conflict, which divided the country along ethnic lines, between the Hutu majority and Tutsi minority. The government has banned all protests and deployed large numbers of police and troops onto the streets, firing live ammunition, tear gas and water cannons, with hundreds of stone-throwing protesters arrested. Some of those killed were shot at close range, while the police said at least 37 officers have been wounded. Police brought more reinforcements on to the streets on Tuesday, but the demonstrators remained defiant, although most were contained inside streets and blocked from the capital’s centre. “We wanted to demonstrate peacefully in the city centre, but police prevented us,” said Fidele, one of those who took to the streets. “So we erected barricades to prevent the police from coming into the neighbourhood.”

Police chief Andre Ndayambaje appealed for people not to turn “protests into a rebellion.”

As a result of the unrest, the main independent radio station has been shut down. “We are protesting because they are shutting down news stations, they are arresting journalists. The country is falling apart!” one protester said. But senior opposition leader Charles Nditije said the protest action would continue until President Nkurunziza agrees not to run for re-election. “He will have no other choice than to give it up because we are determined to go all the way,” he further said.

The president, a former rebel leader and born-again Christian from the Hutu majority, has been in power for two terms since 2005. His supporters said he is eligible to run again, as his first term in office was after he was elected by parliament-not directly by the people as the constitution states.

However, Nyamitwe maintained that protesters “are people who just do not want to go to elections because they are afraid.” He added that the ruling party has a right to present its choice of candidate “like all other parties.” But opponents rejected the government accusations that they were exacerbating ethnic divisions.

“We are all united, Hutu and Tutsi,” said Jean-Bosco, 32, a driver, saying those taking action were angry at what they saw as the breaking of the spirit of the civil war peace deal, which states a president can be in power for no more than a decade.

Some 25,000 Burundians have fled the country in recent weeks, according to the UN refugee agency, which has warned that the number could rise. Many are fleeing threats by the pro-government militia Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling party. Rights groups allege that the militia has been armed and trained over the past year in order to help Nkurunziza remain in office.

The European Union said violence, arrests of human rights activists, restrictions on the media and an outflow of people into neighbouring countries had no place in an electoral process.

The US embassy in Bujumbura said it would “hold accountable those responsible for violence against the civilian population”, while the African Union has appealed to the Burundi government to “exercise the highest restraint.”

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