BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Burundi's electoral commission is considering alternative dates for national elections amid growing calls for the polls to be postponed because of political unrest, an official said Tuesday as anti-government protests returned to parts of the capital.
A new electoral schedule is likely to be sent to President Pierre Nkurunziza before the end of the week, Prosper Ntahorwamiye, a spokesman for the electoral commission, told The Associated Press. He gave no details.
Parliamentary elections are currently scheduled for Friday, while the increasingly fraught presidential poll is set for June 26.
Burundi's capital, Bujumbura, has been wracked by weeks of street protests after the ruling party nominated Nkurunziza for a third term — a decision seen by many as unconstitutional.
An emergency meeting by regional leaders last weekend called on elections to be delayed by at least six weeks. But the government has rejected any postponement, saying any political vacuum in the country could lead to even more political violence.
Citing insecurity, Catholic Church leaders here announced last week they had withdrawn support for the elections as scheduled. The European Union also has also suspended its election observer mission in Burundi over concerns about restrictions on the independent media, excessive use of force against demonstrators and intimidation of opposition parties and civic groups.
The U.N. special envoy to Burundi, Said Djinnit, is in the capital consulting with various parties "with a view to resuming dialogue" among them, the U.N. secretary-general's spokesman, Stephane Dujarric, told reporters Tuesday.
"We remain concerned about the possible escalation of violence," Dujarric said.
Burundi, a country of 10 million people which exports mostly coffee and depends heavily on foreign aid, experienced an ethnic-based civil war from 1993 to 2003 which killed at least 250,000 people.
The protests in Bujumbura, which have left 20 dead and hundreds injured, came to a head on May 13 when an army general announced a coup against the president which was defeated in 48 hours.
Protesters say Nkurunziza's bid for a third term is illegal because the constitution only allows for two five-year terms, and some protesters are vowing to stay on the streets until Nkurunziza says he will not run for re-election. Nkurunziza came to power in 2005 and won a second term in 2010. He maintains he is eligible for a third term because parliament elected him for the first term.
Associated Press writer Cara Anna at the United Nations contributed to this report.