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Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Burundi police fire teargas at protesters as 110,000 flee country

Rights groups say at least 20 people have been killed in three weeks of clashes between security forces and protesters opposed to president’s bid for third term
Burundian refugees rest with their belongings on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in western Tanzania. Photograph: Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

Burundi police fired teargas and beat protesters demanding President Pierre Nkurunziza end his bid for a third term, in a resurgence of unrest that has stoked fears of ethnic conflict in Africa’s Great Lakes region.

Demonstrators say President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term violate the constitution. Photograph: Reuters

At least eight of the flag-waving and chanting demonstrators were dragged off by police on Tuesday, according to a photographer. Some in the crowd responded by pelting officers with stones and rocks.

Separately, shots were fired at the offices of the EU’s representative in Bujumbura, prompting the mission to demand the government step up its security. The EU gave no more details.

Burundi's President Nkurunziza purges cabinet after coup attempt

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Rights groups say at least 20 people have died in three weeks of clashes between security forces and protesters who claim Nkurunziza’s ambitions violate the constitution and a peace deal that ended a civil war in 2005 fuelled by ethnic tensions.

Laying the same charges against the president, a group of renegade generals tried and failed to overthrow him last week. The government said late on Monday it would treat any future demonstrators as accomplices in the failed putsch.

But crowds gathered again in the suburb of Nyakabiga on Tuesday, shouting: “We will not stop until he gives up the third term.”
FacebookTwitterPinterest A demonstrator raises her hands in the air as she faces soldiers in Bujumbura, Burundi. Photograph: Jerome Delay/AP

The longer unrest continues the more chance that a conflict, which until now has been largely a struggle for power, reopens old wounds in a region with a history of mass ethnic killing.

As regional leaders scrambled to contain the impasse and a potential humanitarian crisis, South Africa said next month’s election should be postponed indefinitely until political stability had returned.

Burundi refugees say there is no turning back as fears grow of reprisals at home

More than 110,000 people have fled to neighbouring Rwanda, Democratic Republic of the Congo and Tanzania, where cholera has been found among thousands of refugees sleeping rough on the shores of Lake Tanganyika, waiting evacuation by boat.

The failed coup has heightened fears the crisis in the landlocked state of 10 million people could split the army, the central pillar of unity after the civil war, which had largely pitted majority Hutus against minority Tutsis.

Until recently, Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader with mixed parentage, had also been seen as a bridge between the main groups.

Rwanda, which shares a similar ethnic mix, suffered a genocide in 1994 in which 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were killed.

The protesters in Bujumbura stressed they were against both Nkurunziza and the attempted coup, and denied any links with the plotters.

Burundi's president appears in capital for first time since coup attempt

“No to the coup, and no to the third term. We will continue until he says no to the third term,” one of the demonstrators, who gave his name as Jean-Paul, said. He did not wish to give his last name for fear of reprisals.

The government said on Tuesday it had no desire for extra-judicial vengeance: “The people implicated in the disgraceful attempt to overthrow legitimate institutions will be arrested and prosecuted by justice, and only by justice.”

Nkurunziza says his participation in elections would not violate the constitution as his first term did not count, because he was appointed by parliament, not chosen by a popular vote.


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