African leaders to hold summit on Burundi as violence continues

Reuters News
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Posted: May 26, 2015 5:51 AM

By Clement Manirabarusha and Goran Tomasevic

BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - East African leaders will meet on Sunday at a special summit to discuss the crisis in Burundi, where police and protesters continue to clash on the streets of the capital and the opposition has boycotted peace talks.

A Reuters witness saw police fire in the direction of protesters and gunfire was heard in several parts of Bujumbura early on Tuesday, where many roads are blocked and businesses closed after a month of sometimes lethal protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in office.

Elements in the military attempted a coup on May 13 while Nkurunziza was out of the country at the last East African Community (EAC) summit aimed at ending the conflict. The putsch failed but protests have rumbled on.

The EAC said in a tweet late on Monday that another summit would be held on Sunday, with ministers holding talks on Saturday. Nkurunziza's office said it was unclear if the president would travel to the summit, in Dar es Salaam.

"It's too soon to know, but Burundi will be represented, that is for sure," said presidential spokesman Gervais Abayeho.

The protests, which started on April 26, are part of the biggest political crisis since an ethnically-charged civil war ended in 2005. Many people fear the violence, if left unchecked, could lead to renewed ethnic bloodletting between the Hutu and Tutsi communities.

Rights groups say at least 20 people have been killed in clashes between the police and protesters who say Nkurunziza's bid for a third term violates the constitution. The president's supporters disagree, and say a constitutional court ruling allows him to run.

The opposition boycotted talks after one of its leaders was murdered on Saturday.

A Reuters photographer in the Buyenzi neighborhood of the capital on Tuesday saw police shooting in the direction of protesters who had earlier thrown rocks. It was not clear if anyone was wounded.

"I can’t go to work and I don’t know how to get to the office as policemen are shooting," said Claude, a Buyenzi resident who declined to give his full name.

Jacqueline, who lives in the flashpoint Cibitoke area, added: "Two grenade explosions were heard at dawn but we don’t know about casualties yet."

Some 800,000 mainly Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in a 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda. The current unrest has prompted more than 110,000 Burundians to flee into Rwanda, Tanzania and Democratic Republic of Congo for fear that violence will spread outside Bujumbura.

(Additional reporting and writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by George Obulutsa and Robin Pomeroy)