Burundi opposition chief charged with rebellion

2014-03-12 14:56

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Bujumbura - Burundi charged the leader of a key opposition party and 71 supporters with rebellion on Wednesday after violent clashes last week, a prosecutor said, amid worsening tensions in that country.

Party leader Alexis Sinduhije, who is on the run from police, and the other activists face life in jail if found guilty.

State prosecutor Arcade Nimubona told AFP the activists from the Movement for Solidarity and Development (MSD) party were arrested Saturday after large numbers took part in a "group jog" to the centre of the capital Bujumbura, where they were dispersed by riot police firing tear gas.

An AFP reporter said some 200 sought refuge at the party headquarters, taking two officers hostage, before police stormed the building.

Clashes lasted for over an hour, with at least 20 activists and five policemen wounded.

Nimubona said that 71 of those arrested after the clashes had been charged with "rebellion, insult and violence towards the custodians of public order, and the participation in an armed insurrection".

An arrest warrant has been issued for Sinduhije for his "participation in an armed insurrection as a leader of the movement," said Nimubona, adding he hoped trials would begin as "quickly as possible".

Sinduhije, a former journalist and founder of one of the most listened to private radio stations RPA, only returned to Burundi last year after fleeing violence following elections in 2010.

Decades of conflict

His MSD party, founded in 2009, is supported largely by the youth, but like most of Burundi's opposition parties, it boycotted the presidential and legislative elections of 2010.

The United Nations in Burundi on Monday expressed concern about the "radicalisation" of both the opposition and government, calling for restraint and dialogue ahead of general elections scheduled for 2015, in which President Pierre Nkurunziza is expected to campaign for a third term in office.

The US State Department has also condemned both the excessive use of force against the opposition and the taking of police officers as hostages by the activists.

Tensions between the ruling party CNDD-FDD of President Pierre Nkurunziza and opposition parties have grown in recent weeks.

Last month leaders of the opposition Uprona party were arrested, which threatened to upset a delicate power-sharing arrangement between Burundi's majority Hutu and minority Tutsi communities, who are still struggling to reconcile after decades of conflict.

Burundi's history is marred by bitter ethnic killings and civil war.

Tensions remain high, with rebel gunmen launching a series of attacks since the 2010 boycott of general elections.
Read more on:    pierre nkurunziza  |  burundi  |  east africa

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