Burundian Protesters Clash With Police In Capital City of Bujumbura

Dozens of Burundian protesters reached the centre of the capital Bujumbura Thursday but police fired tear gas to force them out of the sym...

Dozens of Burundian protesters reached the centre of the capital Bujumbura Thursday but police fired tear gas to force them out of the symbolic Independence Square, an AFP reporter said.

Weeks of often deadly demonstrations have taken place largely in the suburbs of the capital, with police trying to block them from marching on the centre.

This came just as Burundi’s defence minister called on the army Thursday to close ranks after a failed coup as the security forces battle to stem weeks of violent anti-government protests.

One protester was shot dead Thursday in clashes with police in the capital Bujumbura, a witness said, the latest victim of the unrest triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in power, in which more than 20 people have died.

The crisis, which began in late April after the ruling party nominated Nkurunziza to stand again in June presidential elections, deepened last week when a top general staged a failed coup attempt.

Newly-appointed Defence Minister Emmanuel Ntahonvukiye called for unity in the wake of the abortive coup, which was crushed by loyalist forces after street fighting between rival factions.

“The survival of Burundi as a nation depends on the cohesion of the army,” a military statement read, warning that, should the army splinter, it would result in a situation seen in war-torn Somalia.

Nkurunziza, in an address to the nation late Wednesday, said most of the central African country was secure, and that the upcoming parliamentary and presidential votes would be peaceful.

“Peace and security reign over 99.9 percent of Burundian territory and population are going about normally in their activities,” Nkurunziza said in a broadcast on state radio.

Shooting was heard overnight in the flashpoint Musaga district of the capital, where police have vowed to end protests.

And hundreds of protestors returned to the streets Thursday, as they have done for almost a month, chanting anti-government slogans and singing.

Most of the demonstrations took place in Bujumbura’s suburbs. One group of protesters briefly reached the symbolic city centre, only to be swiftly chased away by the police.

Opposition and rights groups say that Nkurunziza’s bid for a third five-year term violates the constitution and the terms of the peace deal that brought an end to a 13-year civil war in 2006.

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

The leader of the coup attempt, General Godefroid Niyombare, is on the run after escaping capture, but 20 soldiers involved were arrested.

More than 100,000 people have fled the violence to neighbouring countries, according to the United Nations. Cholera has broken out in squalid refugee camps in Tanzania.

Nkurunziza has urged them to “come back home”, assuring them they face no security threat.

On Wednesday, his office announced that parliamentary polls slated for May 26 had been postponed to June 5, but there has been no mention of rescheduling the June 26 presidential election.

Rights groups accuse Nkurunziza of launching a crackdown on opponents and independent media in the wake of the failed coup.

The presidency has dismissed the claims.

Nkurunziza however has warned journalists against “encouraging insurrection” in their reports.

In the days immediately after the coup bid, soldiers rather than police were mainly deployed against protesters, being seen by many as more neutral. However, this week the police have returned to fend off the demonstrators.

Some activists accuse the police of backing the ruling party’s Imbonerakure youth group, a powerful force described by the UN as a militia and accused of a string of abuses and killings.
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