Protests Against Burundi President's Election Plan Paused

05/02/2015 05:40 pm ET | Updated May 02, 2015
SIMON MAINA via Getty Images

BUJUMBURA, May 2 (Reuters) - Burundi protest organizers on Saturday called a two-day pause in demonstrations against the president's move to seek a third term, which they says violates the constitution and endangers the peace deal that ended civil war in 2005.

After six straight days of protests in the capital Bujumbura, which the President Pierre Nkurunziza's office called "insurrection," the rallies have lost some momentum, with fewer people taking to the streets and clashes with police easing.

The United Nations has voiced concerns that live rounds were fired against protesters. Civil rights groups say at least six people have been killed and dozens injured.

"We decided to stop demonstrations for two days, first to allow those who lost their family members in the protests to observe mourning and, second, we want the protesters to regain energy before resuming the fight Monday," said Pacifique Nininahazwe, head of Focode, one of the 300 civil society groups that have called for the demonstrations.

In an apparent bid to calm tensions, Burundi's defense minister said on Saturday no one could force the army to violate the constitution or the Arusha peace deal that ended the 12-year civil war, and called on politicians to respect both documents.

In carefully worded comments at a news conference, Defense Minister Major General Pontien Gaciyubwenge said: "There is no individual who will direct the army to go against the Arusha deal and the country's constitution."

Since the civil war ended, the army has been a symbol of reconciliation, absorbing rival factions of the bloodletting that killed 300,000 people in a nation of just 10 million.

In recent weeks, more than 26,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring Congo and Rwanda, officials say, amid fears of ethnic violence in a region scarred by the 1994 genocide that killed more than 800,000 people in Rwanda which, like Burundi, is divided between ethnic Tutsis and Hutus.

Nkurunziza's supporters say the former Hutu rebel commander can run again in the June 26 election because his first term, when he was picked by lawmakers and not elected, does not count.

The United States disagrees and has said his candidacy is a violation of the Arusha accords which set a two-term presidential limit. (Reporting by Edmund Blair and Patrick Nduwimana; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Robin Pomeroy)

Suggest a correction