BUJUMBURA, Burundi: Burundian security forces fired shots and tear gas in battles with protesters Wednesday, the latest violence in weeks of antigovernment demonstrations which prompted the presidency to delay elections by over a week.
In the capital Bujumbura, hundreds defied government orders to call off their protests, marching through the streets singing and demanding President Pierre Nkurunziza abandon his bid for a third term in power.
One week after a failed coup led by a top general — which saw soldiers battling each other on the streets — police were seen returning to try to quash protests.
In recent days, soldiers had been mainly deployed, viewed by many protesters as being more neutral than the much more feared police.
At least 20 people died in weeks of clashes with security forces that halted during the coup attempt, but the protests resumed Monday.
Legislative elections had been due on May 26, but were pushed back 10 days to June 5 following “a proposal from the electoral commission to respond to a request from opposition parties, and finally to answer calls of the region and the international community,” presidential official Willy Nyamitwe told AFP.
No decision has been made as to whether a presidential poll set for June 26 would also be delayed. “Wait and see,” Nyamitwe said.
The European Union joined the African Union on Tuesday in calling for a delay to the elections, while South Africa’s President Jacob Zuma said they should be “postponed indefinitely” after a meeting of Africa’s Great Lakes bloc of nations.
Opposition and rights groups say that Nkurunziza’s bid for a third five-year term in power violates the constitution and the terms of the peace deal that brought an end to the country’s 13-year civil war in 2006.
But Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader and born-again Christian who believes he has divine backing to lead the country, argues his first term in power did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people.
In the flashpoint Nyakabiga district, which has seen sone of the largest and most violent demonstrations since protests began on April 26, a small group of soldiers fired into the air to break up the crowd.
But protesters continued their march soon after, and the troops pulled back.
In other areas, police were deployed.
“The army has guns and they cannot fire on the people ... so we brought the police because they have tear gas, and are equipped for this kind of mission,” one policeman told AFP.
Nkurunziza has been accused by rights groups of launching a campaign of repression against opponents and trying to silence independent media since coup leaders admitted defeat on Friday after fierce fighting with loyalist troops.
But the presidency dismissed such claims Tuesday, saying it would never carry out “revenge” raids and promised fair trials for those arrested.
More than 100,000 people have fled to neighbouring nations to escape political violence, according to the United Nations.