Burundi should postpone elections so that authorities can restore security after a wave of violent protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s plan to seek a third mandate, opposition leader Leonard Nyangoma said.
The ruling party’s youth wing, known as Imbonerakure, must be disarmed before elections that should be organized by a transitional government and a “neutral” electoral committee, said Nyangoma in a statement on Wednesday. The former rebel leader, who lives in exile in France, said refugees who fled to neighboring countries in recent weeks should also have a safe place to return to before the vote.
“It is time to launch talks with opposition, the power and civil society,” Nyangoma said.
Protests erupted on April 26 after Nkurunziza’s CNDD-FDD party nominated him to run in June elections, which opponents say violates a two-term limit stipulated in peace accords that ended a 12-year civil war in 2005. The country’s constitutional court has ruled that Nkurunziza is eligible to seek re-election for a third and final term, according to a statement on Wednesday on his website.
East African Community leaders plan to meet next week to discuss the situation, which has the potential to destabilize the region, including neighboring Rwanda where a genocide in 1994 left 800,000 people dead. Rwandan Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo on Tuesday expressed concern about the violence and said foreign countries may need to intervene to restore order.
Security forces have fired live ammunition, teargas and cannons in the capital, Bujumbura, to control the unrest, which has left at least nine people dead, and prevented some private radio stations from broadcasting. Demonstrators have erected road blocks and set tires on fire.
As many as 40,000 Burundians have fled to Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo since the start of April, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. The UN special envoy to the Great Lakes region is holding two days of talks with the government to try to defuse tensions.
Voters in the East African nation are due to elect lawmakers this month. The $2.7 billion economy of 10 million people holds 6 percent of the world’s nickel reserves.