After day of calm, Burundi orders immediate end to protests

Esdras Ndikumana, Aymeric Vincenot
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A police officer fires a tear-gas cannister at protesters during clashes in the Nyakabiga neighbourhood of Bujumbura on May 8, 2015

A police officer fires a tear-gas cannister at protesters during clashes in the Nyakabiga neighbourhood of Bujumbura on May 8, 2015 (AFP Photo/Phil Moore)

Bujumbura (Burundi) (AFP) - Burundi's government on Saturday ordered protesters to immediately end weeks of demonstrations against President Pierre Nkurunziza's third term bid and ordered all barricades to be removed within 48 hours.

"The protesters and organisers of this insurrection must immediately and unconditionally stop this insurrection that handicaps the life of Burundi and its people," the National Security Council said in a statement read out in Bujumbura.

The government's top security body, headed by Nkurunziza, demanded that all roads "previously barricaded by insurgents" be cleared by security forces within 48 hours.

Protest leader Pacifique Nininahazwe slammed the order as a "declaration of war", vowing that the demonstrations would continue until Nkurunziza scraps his plan to run for a third term, widely deemed unconstitutional.

Protesters observed a one-day truce on Saturday that saw calm return to the streets of the capital Bujumbura for the first time in weeks.

At least 18 people have been killed, among them police and protestors, since April 26 when Nkurunziza declared his intention to run for a third term in elections scheduled for next month.

Nkurunziza has so far faced down international condemnation of his third term bid, including from the African Union and the United States. Critics say his candidacy runs contrary to both the constitution and the peace deal that ended a bloody civil war in 2006.

On Friday the president officially registered to run in the June 26 election when he submitted his papers in person at the electoral commission. On Saturday rival candidates followed suit, including main opponent Agathon Rwasa.

Rwasa leads the National Liberation Forces -- known by its French acronym FNL -- and is the key challenger to Nkurunziza and his CNDD-FDD party.

Rwasa said his registration was not a sign that he accepts either the electoral process or the candidature of his opponent, the president.

"The security situation is not looking good," Rwasa said. He alleged that the ruling party youth wing, known as the Imbonerakure and employed as election muscle in the past, "are armed and wearing police uniforms".

"How can we campaign in the current circumstances?" Rwasa asked.


- A return to order -


Saturday saw shoppers out in the streets, making their way past barricades that remained in place in neighbourhoods that have been protest hotspots.

"Today is a day of truce. We will resume tomorrow as we have been asked," said one resting protester.

The security order issued on Saturday evening indicates a government losing patience with the continued demonstrations.

The order said that "all illegally held weapons" would be confiscated and warned people to stay in their houses while neighbourhoods are being cleared of barricades.

The National Security Council pledged that all schools, universities and state offices would be able to resume normal operations on Monday.

Nkurunziza has insisted that elections will "go well" in June 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 on Friday.

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 the 13-year civil war between Tutsis and Hutus.

Concerned East African leaders are to hold an emergency meeting on the crisis in Tanzania on Wednesday.

The government and opposition met Friday to discuss a resolution to the crisis, but no deal was reached and few remain optimistic of a deal.