Burundi president 'won't back down over protests'

2015-04-28 14:39
President Pierre Nkurunziza. (File, AFP)

President Pierre Nkurunziza. (File, AFP)

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Bujumbura - Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza will continue his bid for a third term in power, a spokesperson said on Tuesday dismissing calls by protesters who have clashed with police for three days.

At least five people have died since clashes broke out on Sunday after the ruling CNDD-FDD party, which has been accused of intimidating opponents, designated Nkurunziza its candidate in for presidential elections due to be held in the central African nation on June 26.

"We won't back down, that is out of the question," presidential communications chief Willy Nyamitwe told AFP, blaming demonstrators for the violence and accusing some of them of carrying guns.

"This path of violence they have chosen, we recall the darkest years of our history," he said.

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.

'We are determined to go all the way'

Some of the protesters killed were shot at close range, while the police said at least 37 officers have been wounded.

Police reinforcements boosted the numbers of security forces seen on the streets on Tuesday, but protestors remained defiant - although most were contained in side streets, and were blocked from the capital's centre.

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

But senior opposition leader Charles Nditije said protests would continue until Nkurunziza agreed not to run.

"He will have no other choice than to give it up because we are determined to go all the way," he told AFP.

"It will continue," said Jonathan, a 26-year old unemployed protester, saying that the problem is not that Nkurunziza had been in power for too long but that "he goes against the law."

Dissidents hunted

The president, a former rebel leader and born-again Christian, has been in power for two terms since 2005. Opposition figures and rights groups say his 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, and there are fears the upsurge in political tensions could plunge the country back into violence.

But his supporters say 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.

Nyamitwe said protestors were using the declaration of his candidacy as a "pretext" to avoid elections.

"These are people who just do not want to go to elections because they are afraid," he said, adding the ruling party had a right to present its choice of candidate "like all other parties".

Civilian population

On Monday, authorities arrested a leading dissident, human rights activist Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, and shut down the main independent radio station.

An arrest warrant has also been issued for Vital Nshimirimana, head of a prominent NGO forum, who has gone into hiding.

At least 15 000 Burundians have fled the country to neighbouring Rwanda in recent weeks, according to the UN refugee agency, which has warned that those numbers 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 government to "exercise the highest restraint".

Read more on:    pierre nkurunziza  |  burundi  |  east africa  |  burundi elections 2015  |  burundi protests

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