Burundi opposition says fair elections 'impossible'

Bujumbura (Burundi) (AFP) - Burundi's main opposition parties said Wednesday it was now "impossible" to hold free and fair elections next week and that the result should not be recognised if they take place.

The opposition said plans for polls to go ahead despite widespread civil unrest in the capital was tantamount to an "electoral hold-up" by President Pierre Nkurunziza, whose controversial bid for a third consecutive term has plunged the central African nation into a deep political crisis.

The statement came as another demonstrator was killed and two wounded in clashes in the south of the country, according to local officials, while activists complained of mounting attacks by ruling party supporters.

"The country has sunk into a political and security mess which in no way can allow for peaceful, transparent, free or credible elections," Burundi's main opposition parties said in a joint statement.

"Having an election campaign or holding a vote is impossible. We cannot have an electoral hold-up," the statement said, accusing Nkurunziza and the ruling CNDD-FDD party of silencing independent media, detaining opponents and provoking a major refugee crisis.

Parliamentary elections are due to be held on June 5, with a presidential poll scheduled for June 26. On Tuesday, the government appealed for public donations from "patriotic citizens" so that it could organise the elections, which have been hit by a funding freeze by the central African nation's former colonial power Belgium as well as the European Union.

The crisis surrounds a bid by Nkurunziza to stand for a third consecutive term in office, with opposition and rights groups saying this violates the constitution as well as the terms of a peace deal that ended a 13-year civil war in 2006.

Street protests have taken place for the past month, leaving at least 30 dead in a violent crackdown by security forces.

The crisis intensified earlier this month when a top general staged a failed coup attempt.

The opposition parties said the crisis risked plunging the small, landlocked and impoverished country back into civil war.

"Endorsing such a process is equivalent to supporting a predictable civil war in Burundi," the statement said, adding that foreign governments should "never recognise the election results".

- Militia on the offensive -

There was no immediate response from the government, although on Tuesday its spokesman Philippe Nzobonariba used state radio to condemn mounting diplomatic pressure and signal Nkurunziza would not bow to international criticism.

In the lakeside capital Bujumbura on Wednesday, police were again out in force in order to halt any renewed anti-Nkurunziza protests, with tear gas used to quickly break up any gatherings. Only small groups of demonstrators gathered in the districts of Cibitoke and Buterere, with shots heard ringing out in the area, AFP correspondents said.

Outside the capital in Matana, a town in southern Bururi province, a protestor was killed by police fire, a local official said.

On Tuesday evening at least one person was killed in the capital in a raid by the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the CNDD-FDD that has been branded as a pro-government militia, residents said. A medical source said 32 people were also wounded, many by gunshots, on Tuesday.

Leading opposition campaigner Pacifique Nininahazwe said the Imbonerakure's activities, including "punitive operations" against opponents, were being stepped up in the capital.

Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader and born-again Christian, argues that his first term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people. His bid for re-election also has strong support in rural areas and among sections of the Hutu majority.

Asked to rule on the issue of a third term, Burundi's constitutional court found in the president's favour, but not before one of the judges fled the country claiming its members had received death threats.

The East African Community (EAC) -- a regional grouping of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and also Burundi -- has announced plans to hold a second meeting on the crisis on Sunday in Tanzania's main city of Dar es Salaam.

Nkurunziza was at an EAC summit in Dar es Salaam on May 13 when the coup attempt was launched, but an EAC statement said all the bloc's leaders would attend the next meeting.