Calm in Burundi as truce starts after deadly protests

2015-05-23 21:57
Soldiers lead the convoy of Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza's party, CNDD-FDD, during a rally outside Bujumbura. (Carl De Souza, AFP)

Soldiers lead the convoy of Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza's party, CNDD-FDD, during a rally outside Bujumbura. (Carl De Souza, AFP)

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Bujumbura - Burundian anti-government protesters began a two-day truce on Saturday after almost a month of deadly violence triggered by the president's bid for a third term, culminating in a grenade attack on civilians in a busy market.

The streets of the capital Bujumbura were calm and quiet, with some shops open and a few policemen sitting casually at junctions and roundabouts - a marked difference to protests that have left over 20 people dead since the crisis, including a failed coup, erupted in late April.

Late Friday, attackers hurled two grenades into a crowd at a central market in Burundi's capital, killing three people and wounding 40.

The attack - the first of its kind to deliberately target a civilian crowd - followed some heavy operations by security forces to end weeks of demonstrations by thousands of protesters demanding President Pierre Nkurunziza step down.

Police suspect

Police said they were questioning a suspect in the grenade attack, which they linked to the protest movement.

"Clearly it is one of a series of acts of violence carried out by the demonstrators," police spokesperson Pierre Nkurikiye said.

Civil society leader Vital Nshimiramana, a key organiser of the protests, dismissed the accusation, and called for the international community to investigate.

"We have obviously nothing to do with these grenade attacks," Nshimiramana said. "Police are trying to demonise us to justify the fact that they shot and killed unarmed demonstrators."

Instead, he said groups linked to the government "could be the perpetrators, in order to justify excessive use of force in the repression of the demonstrations”.

Another civil society leader Pacifique Nininahazwe announced a weekend truce "to allow the people to bury with dignity those who died for democracy".

But he warned that "protests will resume on Monday with even more force”.

Opposition and government talks

Nininahazwe, meanwhile, said talks between the protesters, opposition parties and the government had been taking place this week.

"We ask the government to show good faith by refraining to shoot protesters," he added.

"On our part, we promise a completely peaceful demonstration. If they continue to shoot, we will end the dialogue process."

The discreet negotiations have been supported by the United Nations, African Union and regional nations.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said on Friday he was encouraged by this "political dialogue".

The crisis, which began in late April after the ruling party nominated Nkurunziza to stand again in the June 26 presidential election, deepened last week when a top general staged a failed coup attempt.

Parliamentary polls, initially set for May 26, have been postponed to June 5.

Promise of peace

Nkurunziza said in an address to the nation on Wednesday that most of the central African country was secure and that upcoming parliamentary and presidential votes would be peaceful.

Opposition and rights groups say that Nkurunziza's bid for a third five-year term violates the constitution and conditions of a peace deal that ended a 13-year civil war in 2006.

Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader and born-again Christian who believes he has divine backing to lead the country, argues that his first term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people.

Refugees continue to flee the violence, most of them to neighbouring Tanzania, where over 50 000 people are struggling to survive in dire conditions on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Cholera has broken out in squalid camps there, with at least 31 people having died among a total of over 3 000 cases of the disease, with numbers growing by up to 400 cases a day, according to the UN refugee agency.

Read more on:    pierre nkurunziza  |  burundi  |  east africa

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