BUJUMBURA, Burundi: The streets of Burundi’s capital were calm on Saturday for the first time in weeks as protesters opposed to the president’s third term bid observed a truce.
At least 18 people have been killed, including protesters and police, and scores wounded in the demonstrations that began in late April after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to vie for a third term during elections due next month.
On Saturday morning there were signs of normality in neighbourhoods that have been protest hotspots as shoppers made their way past barricades that remain in place, despite a government order that they be removed.
In Cibitoke pedestrians navigated around two large shipping containers that had been dragged across to block the road, while in Nyakabiga barricades demolished by police the night before were back in place.
“Today is a day of truce. We will resume tomorrow as we have been asked,” said one resting protester.
On Friday a protest leader, Pacifique Nininahazwe, declared that demonstrations would be suspended for a day to allow people to “stock up on supplies” and for the dead to be buried “with honour”.
“The protests will resume on Sunday,” said Nininahazwe.
The suspension of demonstrations comes the day after Nkurunziza defied protesters and international opinion to file his papers as candidate for the ruling CNDD-FDD party.
Nkurunziza insisted that elections set for June would “go well” despite the unrest over his bid to extend his 10-year rule.
“These demonstrations have turned into insurrection, but it is something that will be controlled shortly, and I assure you that the elections will go well,” Nkurunziza said, as he visited the electoral commission to register as a candidate.
Opposition parties and civil society groups say Nkurunziza’s third-term bid violates the constitution, which limits a president to two terms in office, as well as the peace accords that ended a 13-year civil war between Tutsis and Hutus in 2006.
Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader from the Hutu majority who has been in power since 2005, has come under intense international pressure to bow out at next month’s election.
The United Nations, African Union, European Union, United States and neighbouring Rwanda have all warned that the president’s third term bid threatens stability.
International Criminal Court prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, has warned that she is “closely following” events in Burundi and those responsible for “mass violence” would be held to account.
East African leaders are to hold an emergency meeting on the crisis in Tanzania on May 13.
Bujumbura was calm on Saturday but protests are set to continue on Sunday when the truce ends as a deal to end the demonstrations remains elusive.
The government and opposition met Friday to discuss a resolution to the crisis, but civil society leaders said they were sceptical an agreement could be found quickly.
“The only thing we agree on is a delay to the electoral calendar,” one civil society leader said, asking not be named.