A little more than a month before presidential elections in Burundi, the African Union has warned that the voting should not be held, because of violence in the East African country spurred by the president's announcement to run again despite a constitutional ban.
“The environment is not conducive for an election,” AU Commission head Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said in an interview with CCTV on Thursday. “As things stand, I don’t even see how elections can take place under these conditions."
After President Pierre Nkurunziza announced plans to run for a third term, not contemplated by the constitution, protests erupted throughout Bujumbura, the capital, and sent tens of thousands fleeing. A total of 17 people have been killed in the chaos since April 26, Agence France-Presse reported, while almost 40,000 have fled the nation to neighboring countries such as Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, the United Nations said Wednesday.
The AU had planned to send a team to observe the presidential elections scheduled for June 26, but Dlamini-Zuma said the security situation has deteriorated so much that it won’t be possible. Nkurunziza has been in power since 2005, and last month announced plans to run for a third term, which is not allowed under the Arusha Accords, which put an end to 13 years of violent clashes between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups that left hundreds of thousands of people dead. The decision sparked a series of violent protests around the country, which intensified Tuesday when Burundi’s constitutional court officially approved the president's bid.
At one point, police fired live rounds to disperse a crowd that was staging a sit-in, a Voice of America report said. Leaders of the opposition parties have accused the ruling party of coordinating attacks on peaceful demonstrators. Agence France-Presse reported that police arrested key opposition leader Audifax Ndabitoreye for “insurrection,” and released him hours later, as the Associated Press confirmed.
In a public address Wednesday night, Nkurunziza said protesters caused “enormous” damage and accused rival party leaders of inciting the violence.
U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, while on a diplomatic visit to nearby Kenya, told reporters he was “deeply concerned” about the current president’s decision to campaign again, adding that the move “flies directly in the face of the constitution.”
The continued clashes have some activists fearing a possible military coup.
“[The] military support the demonstrators because they believe the president should respect the Arusha Accords and the constitution,” Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, president of Burundi's Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detained Persons, told IBTimes UK.
So far, general elections are still scheduled for May 26, and presidential elections for June 26.