Leaders of several east African nations called on Burundi to postpone its presidential and parliamentary elections as unrest rocks the nation and 90,000 refugees remain unable to return. Burundi is scheduled to hold its parliamentary election June 5 and presidential contest June 26.
President Pierre Nkurunziza is making a bid for a third term. The announcement prompted outrage and deadly clashes between police and protesters in the capital of Bujumbura, the Associated Press reported. The nation’s constitution restricts presidents to two five-year terms. But Nkurunziza has said he is entitled to run again since he was selected for his first term by Parliament, not by popular vote.
At least 20 people have died in the protests in Burundi, a central African nation with a population of about 10 million.
At a summit of leaders from Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya Sunday, those nations called for a delay in the elections to ensure a return of calm and the ability of people to vote. "The summit, concerned at the impasse in Burundi, strongly calls for a long postponement of the elections not less than a month and a half," the leaders said in a statement, according to the BBC.
The leaders also called for the “disarmament of the youth” involved in the clashes, the BBC reported. Young supporters of Nkurunziza have been accused of using violence against the opposition.
In early May, Maj. Gen. Godefroid Niyombare attempted a coup to oust Nkurunziza, who had previously been an ally. The coup failed.
The unrest has sent people fleeing Burundi, with the United Nations estimating the number of refugees at 90,000.
Fears were growing about a humanitarian crisis. “It was also affecting food security inside Burundi, which is already one of the poorest and most food insecure countries on Earth,” World Food Program spokesperson Elisabeth Byrs said, according to the U.N.
Burundi isn’t unfamiliar with internal violence. The nation has broken into civil war repeatedly, sending residents fleeing each time for refuge in another nation.
Joseph Nakaha, 67, has fled Burundi three times now because of fighting, he told the Associated Press. Now he’s losing hope that he’ll be able to return. "I am asking the Tanzanian government to give us land because Burundi is no longer our home. There is a problem every year," he said.