Burundi rivals fail to end tensions days before election

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Bujumbura (Burundi) (AFP) - Last-ditch talks between Burundi's government and opposition aimed at resolving a major political crisis over President Pierre Nkurunziza's controversial re-election bid appear to be headed for failure, sources close to the negotiations said.

The closed-door talks, mediated by regional power Uganda, began earlier in the day but quickly descended into an acrimonious exchange with no sign of any consensus on how to end months of turmoil in the central African nation.

Presidential elections are due to take place in the impoverished country on Tuesday, and the opposition looks poised to boycott the polls altogether -- leaving Nkurunziza headed for certain victory but the country violently divided.

The crisis began in April when Nkurunziza announced his intention to stand for a third consecutive five-year term, despite a constitutional two-term limit, sparking months of street protests and a failed coup in mid-May.

Opposition groups say another term would also violate a peace deal that paved the way to end a dozen years of civil war in 2006.

During Saturday's talks, sources said the government side accused the opposition of siding with the coup plotters, who in recent weeks have revived their attempt to overthrow the president by launching armed rebel operations in the north.

The opposition in turn accused the government of being unwilling to negotiate.

"This is subterfuge. They are just avoiding any talk on the electoral calendar," said an anti-Nkurunziza source close to the talks.

Burundi's main opposition leader, Agathon Rwasa, also accused the government of using "delaying tactics just to stay in power."

Three out of the eight presidential candidates have already pulled out of the race, according to an open letter addressed to Burundi's election commission.

"The political and security environment in which the elections are being organised do not guarantee pluralism, inclusion, freedom or transparency," one of the candidates boycotting the polls, Jean Minani of the opposition Frodebu-Nanyuki party, wrote to the election commission.

There are fears the current crisis could plunge the country, which has a history of ethnic and political violence, back into war -- adding another major crisis to the already unstable Great Lakes region.

More than 150,000 people have fled the country because of the unrest, which has included a fierce government crackdown on demonstrations that left at least 100 dead.

Nkurunziza's ruling CNDD-FDD party scored a widely-expected landslide win in parliamentary polls held on May 29, but these were boycotted by the opposition and condemned internationally as neither free nor fair.

The country has been left without most of its independent media outlets, after several radio stations were attacked and destroyed in fighting during the attempted coup.

In one of his final campaign rallies on Friday the president promised the country "five more years of peace" if he was re-elected.

"If you choose the CNDD-FDD you are sure of five more years of peace," he told a gathering of at least 1,500 people.

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