Burundi elections to be postponed after weeks of unrest

AP News
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Posted: Jun 04, 2015 5:59 PM
Burundi elections to be postponed after weeks of unrest

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Presidential and parliamentary elections have been postponed in Burundi, an official said Thursday, following weeks of unrest in the capital over President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in office.

Regional bloc, the East African Community, on Sunday asked the Burundian government to postpone elections for at least 45 days and use that time to ensure there is a conducive environment to hold the polls. More than 90,000 Burundians have fled the country fearing violence. Burundi has had a long history of political upheaval that has been characterized by political assassinations and coups.

Officials are waiting for the electoral commission to propose new election dates, said Willy Nyamitwe, presidential adviser for media and information. He said the latest date the presidential poll can be held is July 26 — a month before the scheduled expiration of Nkurunziza's term.

Before the postponement, parliamentary elections had been scheduled for Friday, and presidential polls for June 26.

The capital Bujumbura has been rocked by weeks of protests following the April 25 announcement of Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in office, which many viewed as unconstitutional. At least 20 people have died in street battles with police. The protests gave rise to an attempted coup in mid-May which was soon crushed.

In New York, the U.N. Security Council welcomed the government's commitment to postpone elections and called on all Burundian parties to reach agreement on a new electoral timetable. It also called for the reinstatement of private media and protection of civil and human rights including the right to peaceful assembly so opposition politicians can campaign freely.

A press statement issued Thursday after a closed briefing by Said Djinnit, the U.N. special envoy for the Great Lakes Region, called for those responsible for the violence to be held accountable and urged the disarmament of all armed youth groups allied to political parties.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon urged "the swift implementation of measures to help create the conditions for the holding of peaceful, inclusive and credible elections," his spokesman said.

The U.N. chief expressed concern about the potential for violence in Burundi to escalate further and called for "calm and restraint." Ban also called for the resumption of political talks facilitated by Djinnit, the spokesman said.

Some African leaders have been in power for decades after altering their countries' constitutions to extend their tenures.

Burkina Faso's president of 27 years, Blaise Compaore, stepped down in October amid mounting opposition to his bid to seek yet another term in office.

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Associated Press writers Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Tom Odula in Nairobi, Kenya, contributed to this report