Burundi protesters launch fresh anti-government demonstrations

AFP , Monday 18 May 2015

Demonstrators opposed to President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in office rebuild a barricade after it was dismantled by soldiers in the Nyakabiga neighborhood of Bujumbura, Burundi, Saturday, May 16, 2015 (Photo: AP)

Protesters opposed to Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza launched fresh demonstrations Monday, resuming weeks of street marches after a failed coup despite warnings from the government.

Small groups gathered in several parts of the capital Bujumbura, singing songs and blowing whistles, each time chased away by soldiers shooting in the air, then regrouping elsewhere.

"Let's end fear, regain our momentum," said Pacifique Nininahazwe, a leading figure of the protest against Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in power.

At least 20 people died in street battles with security forces before the demonstrations ended when generals launched a failed coup attempt last week.

Nininahazwe called for a "peaceful march," "no insults" and no stones to be thrown.

"We stop when police confront us, we sit with hands in the air, then we resume walking," he said, in a message spread via social media, after four key independent radios were closed by the authorities.

Bujumbura mayor Juma Saidi, speaking on state television on Sunday, warned that "demonstrators will be considered as part of the coup, and security forces have been ordered to treat them as such."

A group of top generals on Wednesday launched a bid to oust Nkurunziza while he was on a visit to neighbouring Tanzania after almost three weeks of protests over his controversial bid to stand again for office.

Nkurunziza has been accused of launching a campaign of repression against opponents and trying to silence independent media since coup leaders admitted defeat on Friday after fierce fighting with loyalist troops.

Seventeen alleged plotters appeared in court on Saturday, including a former defence minister and two top police commissioners, to face accusations of "attempting to overthrow the state".

Opposition and rights groups insist that Nkurunziza's bid for a third five-year term is against the constitution and the terms of the peace deal that brought an end to the country's civil war in 2006.

The president has also been accused of intimidating opponents and failing to lift the fortunes of small landlocked Burundi, one of the poorest countries on the planet.

Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader and born-again Christian who believes he has divine backing to lead the country, argues his first term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people.

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