Protesters gather in Burundi streets despite warnings

Demonstrators gather in Burundi’s capital and chant slogans against President Pierre Nkurunziza

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

More than 100 protesters shouting slogans against Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza and his bid for a third term in office have gathered in streets of the country’s capital, challenging government’s threats of a crackdown, Reuters has reported.

“We will not stop until he gives up the third term," the protesters shouted in the capital's suburb of Nyakabiga.

Protesters say Nkurunziza's bid for five more years in power violates Burundi’s constitution and a peace deal that ended an ethnically-fuelled civil war in the country in 2005.

The constitution limits the presidency to two terms in office, but Nkurunziza's supporters say he can run again because his first term was picked by lawmakers and not by elections.

Despite the demonstrations against his third term bid, Burundi's Constitutional Court approved the candidacy of President Pierre Nkurunziza last Tuesday.

“Burundian police beat and fired tear gas at protesters in the capital on Tuesday who were demanding President Pierre Nkurunziza reverse a decision to run for a third term in office,” a Reuters photographer said.

The photographer said at least eight people were arrested. Some protesters responded by throwing rocks at police ranks

A top general, sharing the sentiments of the protesters, tried and failed to overthrow Nkurunziza last week. 

After that unsuccessful attempt, the government said late on Monday it would treat any future demonstrators as accomplices in the failed coup. 

However, the protesters in Bujumbura said they were against both Nkurunziza and the attempted coup.

At least 20 people died in the protests before the coup attempt and many were injured. 

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."

"No to the coup, and no to the third term. We will continue until he says no to the third term," one of the demonstrators, who gave his name as Jean-Paul, told Reuters. He did not wish to give his last name for fear of reprisals.

Burundi, an impoverished nation with a population of 10 million, is still recovering from its civil war that killed about 300,000 people.

Neighboring Rwanda, which shares a similar ethnic mix between a Hutu majority and Tutsi minority, suffered a genocide in 1994 in which 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were killed.

US State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke expressed concern over the situation on Monday, saying "peaceful protesters should not be equated with people who participated in an attempted seizure of power."

Concerning the rising violence in the past month in Burundi, US envoy Samantha Power said “the government of Burundi has a window of opportunity to bring the violence to a halt,” stating that “the international community is urging President Pierre Nkurunziza to put his people ahead of his personal desire to seek re-election.”

More than 100,000 people have fled to neighboring nations since the political violence that culminated in last week's foiled coup attempt erupted in April, according to the UN.

TRTWorld and agencies