Burundi: Catholic bishops withdraw support for elections

AP News
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Posted: May 28, 2015 2:03 PM

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Catholic Church leaders said on Thursday they no longer support the Burundi government's decision to hold elections next month amid political unrest over President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term. The European Union also said it was suspending its election observer mission here.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops of Burundi said in a statement that it is withdrawing from an earlier agreement with the government that would have seen priests monitoring elections across the country, piling more pressure on an administration that is facing international calls to postpone the elections.

In a statement Thursday, the EU said it was suspending its election observer mission in Burundi over concerns about restrictions on the independent media, excessive use of force against demonstrators and the intimidation of opposition parties and civic groups.

"All parties should engage in good faith in a dialogue to restore the necessary conditions for democratic elections and, primarily, the government of Burundi should reach out to all domestic actors by restoring confidence through concrete measures," the statement said.

Burundi's government says elections must go ahead because a postponement would create a dangerous political vacuum and possibly even lead to more unrest.

Parliamentary elections are set for June 5, and presidential elections for June 26.

Critics say the political environment is too unstable to hold elections, with almost daily street demonstrations in the capital, Bujumbura, starting a month ago after the ruling party announced it had nominated Nkurunziza as its candidate. Thursday was mostly calm.

In New York on Wednesday, the U.N. Security Council president said "the predominant opinion" of members is that Burundi's elections should not take place as scheduled.

The U.N.-led political dialogue in Burundi resumed Thursday, with all parties represented, the spokesman for the secretary-general, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters at U.N. headquarters in New York. The talks were suspended after the killing of an opposition leader several days ago.

The U.N. political chief, Jeffrey Feltman, met with Burundi's charge d'affaires and stressed that "the risk of escalation of violence remains," Dujarric said.

Burundi's president has called on "patriotic citizens" to donate for elections amid threats from some Western donors to suspend funding if Nkurunziza seeks a third term, which many consider unconstitutional and a violation of peace accords.

Burundi experienced an ethnic-based civil war from 1993 to 2003 in which at least 250,000 people died.

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Associated Press writer Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda, and Cara Anna at the United Nations, contributed to this report.