Protests flare for second week over Burundi president's vote bid

Reuters News
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Posted: May 04, 2015 5:40 AM

By Patrick Nduwimana

BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - Hundreds of protesters rallied on the streets of Bujumbura on Monday, the start of a second week of demonstrations demanding President Pierre Nkurunziza abandon his bid for a third term in office, which opponents say violates the constitution.

At least six people have been killed in unrest since Nkurunziza announced on April 25 he would stand in a June election. The government calls the protests illegal and an "insurrection".

Demonstrators have set up makeshift road blocks and set fire to tires in several suburbs of the capital, often scuffling with police who have fired teargas, water cannon and, say protesters, live rounds. The police deny this.

The army has been deployed to restore calm in the African nation which emerged from an ethnically fueled civil war in 2005 that pitted majority ethnic Hutus against minority Tutsis.

"Please, Nkurunziza, give up the third term so that peace returns in the country," demonstrators shouted in the Kinindo suburb, where dozens gathered after protest organizers called for a halt to demonstrations over the weekend.

Hundreds more protested in Nyakabiga suburb, a Reuters witness said, while local media reported protests in Musaga.

The police say six people have died since unrest began, including at least two policemen and one soldier. Civil society groups say the toll is at least nine.

The United States, European nations and regional countries had urged Nkurunziza not to stand, saying he risked undermining the Arusha peace deal which ended the civil war and has kept the country calm for a decade.

The Arusha deal and the constitution say the president is limited to two five-year terms. Supporters say his first term does not count because in 2005 he was picked by lawmakers as a transitional measure and not elected by popular vote.

There has been little sign of protests spreading beyond the capital. Police have kept demonstrators out of central Bujumbura. There have been local media reports of protests in other regions, but these have not been confirmed independently.

Defense Minister Major General Pontien Gaciyubwenge said on Saturday no one would direct the army to violate the Arusha deal or constitution, emphasizing its neutral role.

The army, previously a Tutsi-led force, now includes former rebel groups, including the militia once commanded by Nkurunziza. Many see the army as a vital force for stability.

Fearing violence, around 24,000 people have fled to neighboring Rwanda 7,000 to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Twitter.

(Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Andrew Heavens)