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Posts tagged ‘Protests in Burundi’

Burundi army thrust into new role in quelling protests

May 18, 2015

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Burundi’s army was deployed on Monday for the first time to quell street protests, putting the military into a precarious position amid persistent demonstrations against the president’s bid for a third term.

Confronting hundreds of demonstrators, two groups of soldiers almost opened fire on each other as the result of a dispute on whether to use lethal force against the protesters, sharply illustrating the military’s difficult position.

In an apparent effort to assert greater control over the military, President Pierre Nkurunziza fired his defense minister, Pontien Gaciyubenge, who earlier this month had said the army would play a neutral role in the street protests and respect the Constitution, comments seen as critical of the president. Nkurunziza also replaced International Affairs Minister Laurent Kavakure and Trade Minister Marie Nizigiyimana, said presidential spokesman Gervais Abayeho.

The protests began more than three weeks ago after the ruling party named Nkurunziza as its candidate in June elections. Police tried to crush the demonstrations at the cost of at least 15 lives. Burundi’s situation grew even more volatile last week when a general announced a coup, which collapsed within two days when loyalist troops overwhelmed the rebel faction. Since Nkurunziza returned to the presidential palace over the weekend, the demonstrations have continued and the army appears to have inherited the role of putting down the street protests.

In Bujumbura’s Musaga neighborhood, armed soldiers on Monday faced off with hundreds of angry protesters who called for Nkurunziza to reverse his decision to seek another term in office, which many say is unconstitutional.

An Associated Press reporter in Musaga, where protesters put up barricades of burning tires, saw two soldiers fire into a crowd of protesters, who had repeatedly shouted, “Shoot us.” No casualties were seen.

“The military is shooting at us, you have seen for yourselves,” said protester Alfred Nsengumukiza. “They came here pushing and shoving us and also doing the same to journalists, then they opened fire.”

The soldiers who fired the shots were then ordered to leave the front line, sparking a rift between troops who opposed shooting at protesters and those who supported such action. Amid the standoff, the group opposed to firing at protesters cocked their guns and threatened to shoot their colleagues if they fired into the crowd.

No police were seen in the volatile areas of Musaga and Cibitoke, a sign that the army, which previously had acted as a buffer between angry protesters and the police, has now taken over operations against demonstrators. The soldiers are armed with machine guns and rocket-propelled grenades.

Many of the demonstrators in Citiboke said their protests should not be linked to the coup calling the coup plotters “opportunists.” “We just want Nkurunziza to respect the constitution and leave office. In the years he has been in power he has done nothing for us,” said Bertland Nkurunziza.

Seventeen security officials, including five generals, accused in the attempted coup were charged Saturday with attempting to destabilize public institutions, said lawyers of some of the suspects. Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare, the former intelligence chief who announced the coup on Wednesday, remains at large.

Nkurunziza, who was in Tanzania for a summit to discuss his nation’s troubles when the coup attempt was announced, made his first public appearance in Bujumbura on Sunday. The U.S. government has raised concern over reports of retaliatory attacks in the aftermath of the attempted coup. It has urged Nkurunziza to condemn and stop the alleged use of violence by the police and the ruling party’s youth militias against those who participate in street protests.

In Washington, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke cited cases of retaliatory violence against coup plotters and supporters in Burundi. He said any individuals charged with involvement must be treated according to the law and their rights must be respected. And “peaceful protesters should not be equated with people who participated in an attempted seizure of power.”

At least three people were wounded in an overnight attack in the outskirts of the capital which witnesses blamed on the ruling party’s youth wing. Jafeh Hakizimana, said he was hacked with machetes by a group from the ruling party’s youth wing, known as the, Imbonerakure, who came to his village looking for opposition supporters. Hakizimana said his brother was among the attackers.

“He did not do anything to help me and went on to beat others,” Hakizimana said. Fearing political violence, more than 105,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries recently, according to the U.N.

Associated Press reporters Gerard Nzohabona contributed to this report, Andrew Njuguna and Jerome Delay contributed to this report.

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After failed coup, Burundi president urges halt to protests

May 16, 2015

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — President Pierre Nkurunziza thanked his security forces for crushing a military coup that tried to topple him, and he urged an immediate halt to the protests that have erupted in Burundi in recent weeks since he decided to seek a third term.

Nkurunziza’s motorcade rolled into the capital on Friday and he returned to the presidential palace, said his spokesman, Gervais Abayeho. The president did not appear in public. His jubilant supporters cheered his return and the failure of the coup. Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare, a former intelligence chief, had announced Wednesday while Nkurunziza was in Tanzania that he had relieved the president of his duties.

That triggered fierce fighting in the capital between his forces and those loyal to Nkurunziza. The city was calm but tense Friday, with many businesses closed. Some residents who don’t support the government emerged from their homes to resume protests.

Three army generals accused of trying to topple Nkurunziza were arrested when they were found hiding in a house, while another senior security official was caught at the border while trying to flee to Tanzania, Abayeho said. He added that Niyombare remained at large and a manhunt was underway.

The United States government said it was alarmed by reports of retaliatory attacks and the growing risk of violence and atrocities. U.N. officials, too, urged authorities to ensure that a campaign of reprisals do not take place against the supporters of the coup and other opponents.

The U.S. urgently called on Nkurunziza to condemn and stop the use of violence by police and the ruling party’s Imbonerakure youth militias against those who participated in protests against a third term, State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said.

Washington opposes attempts to seize power unlawfully, but also believes that Nkurunziza’s decision to disregard the 2003 peace accords that ended civil war by seeking a third term “has created instability and violence,” Rathke said.

Rathke said the U.S. was taking steps to impose visa ineligibilities on those responsible for violence and called on other governments to do the same. The U.S. also warned that it cannot provide military training or assistance to units that commit human rights violations, and welcomed the decision by donors to reduce or withdraw assistance to Burundi in response to violence.

In New York, members of the U.N. Security Council called for the swift return of the rule of law and a genuine dialogue to create conditions for peaceful, transparent, inclusive and credible elections. In a statement, they also specifically condemned those who facilitate violence, and called on the Burundi authorities to address the crisis while respecting fundamental freedoms.

In his speech, which was posted on his website in Burundi’s official language of Kirundi, Nkurunziza thanked “the security and defense forces for the efficiency with which they fought the coup against the democratically elected institutions.”

He said “peace reigns throughout the country, even in Bujumbura where this small group of criminals wanted to commit the irreparable,” a reference to the coup plotters, and he added that they had been preparing their actions “for a long time, since last year and before.”

Nkurunziza called for an immediate end to all hostilities and urged dialogue. “We therefore urge the immediate cessation of the demonstrations, that those who have claims do so in dialogue and consultation, not through force and revolt,” he said.

The protests began April 26, a day after the ruling party made Nkurunziza its presidential candidate, and at least 15 people have been killed in the unrest. Opponents said his plan violated the constitution as well as the peace accords that ended a civil war. The constitution states a president can be popularly elected to two five-year terms, but Nkurunziza maintains he can run for a third because parliament voted him into office the first time, leaving him open to be popularly elected to two terms.

More than 105,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries recently, according to the U.N., and the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein warned Friday that the country is at risk of descending further into chaos.

He urged authorities to ensure that the instigators of the failed coup are not harmed and that there are no reprisals against their perceived supporters, journalists, human rights activists and the many civilian protesters.

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon spoke to Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta about Burundi and emphasized the need for regional leaders “to join efforts to help resolve the crisis,” said deputy spokesman Farhan Haq. Ban plans to talk to Nkurunziza and other regional leaders in the coming days, he added.

Haq then summarized Ban’s statement from Thursday that urged “all political and security leaders to clearly and openly reject the use of violence, refrain from acts of revenge and rein in their militants.”

Nkurunziza’s motorcade drove to Bujumbura from the northern city of Ngozi, where he was greeted by many supporters after returning from Tanzania, Abayeho said. Smoke was still billowing from the building housing the Radio Publique Africaine, which was among four popular independent radio stations and a TV station attacked in the fighting.

The national broadcaster that the coup plotters tried to seize was heavily guarded by army personnel, and many police checkpoints were set up along a highway in southern Burundi. The U.S. Embassy was closed Friday, a day after the State Department ordered the departure of nonemergency government personnel and dependents of embassy staff. Rathke said the U.S. could offer only limited emergency services to U.S. citizens and underscored a travel warning urging all Americans to leave Burundi as quickly as possible.

Dozens of Nkurunziza supporters turned out in the Kamenge area of the capital to celebrate his return, blowing whistles and carrying balloons with the ruling party colors. Supporter Aloys Ntabankana said they were happy over Nkurunziza’s return, and he decried those who tried to oust him.

“The thing they wanted to do in Burundi would have sunk Burundi into chaos. It would have been a civil war. People would have died because of the coup against Nkurunziza,” he added. Burundi descended into civil war in 1993 following the army assassination of the country’s first democratically elected President Melchior Ndadaye, a Hutu. That conflict, which opened longstanding ethnic tensions between majority Hutus and minority Tutsis, lasted until 2005.

Nkurunziza, a Hutu, took over as president and embarked on a campaign of ethnic reconciliation and economic rehabilitation. But a youth wing of his party has been accused of human rights violations, including killing political opponents.

Jerome Delay in rural southern Burundi, Edmund Kagire in Kigali, Rwanda, Bradley Klapper in Washington and Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed to this report.

Burundi: 3 killed as Burundi political protests continue

May 07, 2015

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Protesters searched for and assaulted people suspected to be members of the ruling party’s violent youth group on Thursday as the upheaval against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term persisted with three more people reported killed.

One man fled under a hail of stones and took shelter in a covered sewer until army troops arrived and dispersed the mob by firing into the air. In another neighborhood, a protester was killed in clashes with police and the Imbonerakure youth group.

One person was killed in Kinama Commune when protesters confronted a group of Imbonerakure members, caught one and burning him; and in Commune Nyakabiga, another man was killed by a mob which accused him of being a member of Imbonerakure, witnesses told journalists.

Three people were killed and 13 wounded in the day’s violence, according to the Burundi Red Cross. Protesters want Nkurunziza to drop his re-election bid, saying it is illegal. But the Constitutional Court ruled that he can seek a third term and his backers say he can seek re-election because for his first term, he was selected by Parliament and not by popular election. Burundi’s constitution says the president should be elected by universal direct suffrage for a mandate of five years, renewable one time.

Protests have rocked Burundi’s capital since the ruling party announced on April 25 that it had nominated Nkurunziza as its presidential candidate. Thursday’s deaths bring the number of people killed in the protests to at least 13 and 216 wounded. More than 30,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries, fearing political violence.

Nkurunziza said the protests should stop immediately so the country can peacefully prepare for the June 26 elections. Opposition politician Audifax Ndabitoreye was arrested after a meeting between East African Community foreign ministers seeking to end the crisis and Burundi leaders at a hotel in the capital on Wednesday but was released later.

Associated Press Writer Edmund Kagire contributed to this report from Kigali, Rwanda

Burundian opposition leader arrested as protests continue

May 06, 2015

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Burundian Police arrested an opposition leader Wednesday after he attended a meeting of foreign ministers from the East African Community who were seeking a solution to the unrest in the country, triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term.

Police failed to pull opposition leader Audifax Ndabitoreye from the meeting between East African Community foreign ministers and Burundi leaders at a hotel in the capital Bujumbura. Officers in plain clothes then waited for him outside the hotel. He first resisted being arrested, but later gave himself up to the police.

Police showed journalists a warrant of arrest for Ndabitoreye which said he was wanted for insurrection. Protests have rocked Burundi’s capital since the ruling party announced on April 25 that it had nominated Nkurunziza as its presidential candidate.

Ndabitoreye said intervention by the East African Community was late. “They should have come a long time ago. Everyone knew the situation was getting worse… You have a government militia that terrorizes people,” he said.

Whether he himself is dead or alive the protest movement will continue, Ndabitoreye added. “I know behind me there are thousands, millions of Burundi citizens who believe things will change, who know in their flesh things must change,” he said.

Foreign ministers from East African Community nations travelled to Burundi Wednesday to help seek a solution to the problems. They included ministers from Rwanda, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda, said Edwin Limo, a spokesman of Kenya’s foreign ministry.

In Bujumbura, roads were barricaded with trees as protests continued for a second week. In the Kinondo area of the city, police fired shots into the air to disperse demonstrators who had been staging a sit-in.

Vladimir Monteriro, a U.N. press officer in Bujumbura, said a U.N.-facilitated meeting between the government, the opposition and civil society started Tuesday. Burundi’s Constitutional Court on Tuesday validated the president’s controversial bid for a third term but the deputy president of the court, who fled to Rwanda ahead of the ruling, called it unconstitutional.

Jean Minani, an opposition party leader, said the opposition will use all peaceful means to ensure that Nkurunziza does not contest in the elections because it’s unconstitutional. Burundi’s constitution says the president is elected by universal direct suffrage for a mandate of five years, renewable only once.

Nkurunziza was first installed as president in 2005 by Parliament to lead a transitional government. He won the 2010 presidential election as the sole candidate. Opposition members boycotted, saying they feared it would be rigged.

At least nine people have been killed in the protests and more than 20,000 Burundians have fled to Rwanda, fearing political violence.

Burundi Red Cross: 3 killed in clashes with security forces

May 04, 2015

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — At least three people have been killed in Burundi on Monday in violent clashes with the security forces, said the Red Cross, as street demonstrations persist over the president’s third term bid.

An estimated 45 more people have been wounded, said Red Cross spokesman Alexis Manirakiza, in the worst chaos since the ruling party nominated President Pierre Nkurunziza to be its candidate in elections on June 26.

The police defended their tactics, saying they had restrained themselves even when 15 police officers were wounded by an exploding grenade allegedly thrown by protesters, said Liboire Bakundukize, a spokesman for the public security ministry.

“They (the police) contained themselves. But you know when people are attacked with a grenade, the reaction can be violent,” he said. “I commend them but want to call on the people that such a thing (the grenade incident) cannot happen again. It is unacceptable. Because when they are attacked by a grenade, they can also be authorized to throw grenades.”

Last week at least six people were killed in violent confrontations with the police, who fired live ammunition, tear gas and water cannon to disperse crowds. The protests are happening mostly in the suburbs of the capital, Bujumbura.

The protests resumed Monday after a weekend pause after a week of clashes between police and protesters angry over the president’s bid for run for another term. The U.S. has criticized Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term.

Speaking in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters: “We are deeply concerned about President Nkurunziza’s decision, which flies directly in the face of the constitution of his country. Violence that is expressing the concern of his own citizens about that choice should be listened to and avoided as we go forward in these days.”

On Monday some protesters reached downtown Bujumbura, which they had previously failed to get to because of a heavy police and military presence. Gunfire rang out and men ducked for cover as some shopkeepers hurriedly closed their businesses.

The military is continuing to act as a buffer between angry protesters and the police. In the Musaga neighborhood, where anti-government anger has been particularly intense, barricades were erected as police watched on Monday. One of the protesters there had to be rushed to the hospital after being shot in the back.

Protesters say their goal is to force Nkurunziza to withdraw his bid for a third term, which many see as a violation of the Arusha Agreements that ended a civil war here in which more than 250,000 people died.

Burundi’s defense minister, Maj. Gen. Pontien Gaciyubwenge, said on Saturday that the army should remain neutral amid the unrest. He urged “all political actors” to avoid violence. Nkurunziza, a Hutu, was selected president by Parliament in 2005. He was re-elected unopposed in 2010.

Muhumuza contributed to this report from Kampala, Uganda. Associated Press writer Bradley Klapper in Nairobi, Kenya, also contributed.

Burundi: Anti-government protests enter second week

May 04, 2015

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — At least 35 people have been injured in demonstrations in Burundi’s capital on Monday, the Burundi Red Cross said, as thousands continued to protest the president’s decision to seek a third term.

The protests in the Burundian capital of Bujumbura resumed after a weekend pause following a week of clashes between police and protesters angry over the ruling party’s decision to nominate President Pierre Nkurunziza as its candidate in elections scheduled for June 26.

Alexis Manirakiza, a spokesman for the Burundi Red Cross, said the number of those wounded in the clashes continues to grow, although no deaths were reported on Monday. Last week, at least six people were killed in violent confrontations with the police.

On Monday some protesters managed to reach downtown Bujumbura, which they had previously failed to access amid heavy police and military presence. Gunfire rang out and men ducked for cover as some shopkeepers hurriedly closed their businesses.

The military is continuing to act as a buffer between angry protesters and the police, who are accused of sometimes using live ammunition in confrontations with demonstrators. Police have also fired tear gas and water cannon.

In the Musaga neighborhood, where anti-government anger has been particularly intense, barricades were erected as police watched on Monday. Protesters say their goal is to force Nkurunziza to withdraw his bid for a third term, which many see as a violation of the Arusha Agreements that ended a civil war here in which more than 250,000 people were killed.

Burundi’s defense minister, Maj. Gen. Pontien Gaciyubwenge, said on Saturday that the army should remain neutral amid the unrest. He urged “all political actors” to avoid violence. Nkurunziza, a Hutu, was selected president by Parliament in 2005. He was re-elected unopposed in 2010.

Burundi military says it will remain neutral amid protests

May 02, 2015

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Burundi’s defense minister said Saturday the army will remain neutral amid the street protests stemming from the president’s controversial bid for a third term.

Maj. Gen. Pontien Gaciyubwenge told a news conference that “all political actors” in Burundi should not go down the path of violence, according to local media. In street protests since Sunday, the military has been acting as a buffer between protesters and local police, who are accused of sometimes using live ammunition against the protesters. Tear gas has also been used to break up crowds.

Burundi’s popular Radio Isanganiro quoted Gaciyubwenge as saying the military should behave in ways that “conform to the spirit” of the constitution as well as the Arusha Agreements that ended a civil war in which more than 250,000 people died.

The fighting between Hutu rebels and a Tutsi-dominated army ended in 2003. The Central African nation’s war began in October 1993, after Burundi’s first democratically elected president was assassinated.

Although the current conflict is political, some observers are concerned about the risk of igniting ethnic tensions. “The current institutions are trying to bury the Arusha accords. This attitude leads us directly to hell,” said former President Domitien Ndayizeye, who was in office from 2003 to 2005.

At least six people have been killed in clashes with the police, according to the Burundi Red Cross. A funeral for one was held Saturday. Protesters are vowing to return to the streets Monday to keep up the pressure on President Pierre Nkurunziza.

On Friday three people died in grenade attacks in Burundi, according to Pierre Nkurikiye, a spokesman for the ministry of public security. Seventeen people were wounded in the grenade attacks Friday night, he said.

Police have arrested two suspects but the motive of the attacks is not known, said Nkurikiye. Burundi is one of the world’s poorest countries and the poverty and the absence of freedom could lead to a revolt, he said.

Nkurunziza, a Hutu, was selected president by Parliament in 2005. He was re-elected unopposed in 2010. His supporters say he can seek re-election again because he was voted in by lawmakers for his first term, and was not popularly elected.

U.S. Assistant Secretary for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor Tom Malinowski traveled to Burundi on Wednesday and told reporters the government has been warned of “real consequences” if the crisis escalates.

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