Burundi police confront anti-president protesters, army on streets

AFP , Monday 27 Apr 2015

Police fired tear gas and water cannon at protesters rallying in Burundi's capital on Monday against the president's plan to run for a third term.

"The fight continues," people chanted as crowds gathered in in several parts of Bujumbura for a second day of protests.

President Pierre Nkurunziza's government said protesters had broken their promise that the rallies would be peaceful.

"It appears this is not a peaceful demonstration. It is an insurrection," Nkurunziza's spokesman, Gervais Abayeho, said.

Police slapped and kicked prominent activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa as they arrested him after he appeared on a live radio programme, according to a Reuters reporter. Officers then raided and shut down the Radio Broadcasters' Association studio that had broadcast the show.

Private radio station RPA was also shut down for broadcasting live about the protests.

Abayeho said Burundi's prosecutor had no choice but to close the station as it was "fuelling violence".

RPA director Bob Rugurika said his station and two others had already been stopped from broadcasting in the countryside, where much of Nkurunziza's popular support is based.

Nkurunziza's announcement on Saturday that he would run in the June 26 election triggered the unrest in the East African nation, which emerged from an ethnically fuelled civil war in 2005.

Activists say Nkurunziza broke the constitution and the Arusha peace agreement that ended the civil war, both documents which limit the president to two five-year terms.

Nkurunziza's supporters say his first term does not count as he was picked by lawmakers, not elected.

A Reuters reporter said the army had been deployed on the streets and now outnumbered police. Protesters blocked roads with burning tyres and large stones, while police appeared to be trying to stop them converging on the city centre.


The presidency said three people had been killed and 15 police officers were hurt during clashes in Bujumbura on Sunday.

Hours before his arrest, Mbonimpa told Reuters at least five people were killed on Sunday, three of them in protests and two more in an attack by the ruling party's Imbonerakure youth wing.

"The military are aware that we are going to hold protests, but have warned us that they should remain peaceful and that's all we are asking for," Mbonimpa said.

The police had no immediate comment on any casualties.

The ruling CNDD-FDD party has repeatedly denied charges its youth wing is armed and trying to cause violence.

Diplomats and opponents say the police are seen as more aligned to the ruling party, a charge the party denies.

African and Western nations had all pressed Nkurunziza not to run again. The U.S. State Department said it was disappointed by the president's decision and said it would take "targeted measures" against anyone instigating or taking part in violence.

Western diplomats fear bloodshed could further destabilise a region struggling to stem the flow of refugees and weapons due to wars in South Sudan and Somalia.

Rwandan officials said more than 20,000 people had now fled from Burundi to Rwanda, where more than 800,000 mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed in a 1994 genocide. Thousands have also fled to neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

Burundi's civil war pitted the army, then dominated by the ethnic Tutsi minority, against rebel groups mostly made up of majority Hutus, one of them led by Nkurunziza. The army now includes both ethnic groups.

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