Protesters who are against Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza and his bid for a third term march in Bujumbura
By Clement Manirabarusha
BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - Burundi's electoral commission on Monday proposed possible dates for upcoming elections, though the move is unlikely to satisfy government opponents who have held weeks of protests calling the president's bid for a third term unlawful.
The dispute over the upcoming presidential vote, originally scheduled for June 26, has thrown the country into weeks of chaos. The protesters say President Pierre Nkurunziza is violating the constitution by running, and Nkurunziza, backed by Burundi's constitutional court, saying he can run.
The commission, known as CENI, proposed holding the presidential vote on July 15 and parliamentary elections - originally slated for June 5 and already delayed once - on June 26.
The commission also vowed to create a more open process, including allowing media houses closed during the protests to reopen.
No one from the opposition attended the meeting. Earlier in the day, a group of 17 opposition parties said it was committed to dialogue to resolve the crisis but also said they were committed to continuing the political fight to ensure Nkurunziza quit.
Also on Monday, Burundi's presidential spokesman said the government had received donations from citizens to help fund the presidential polls and other elections, and expressed hope that Western donors will reverse a decision to halt election aid to avert more chaos.
Gervais Abayeho said the government had earmarked its own election funds and guaranteed voting would go ahead before Aug. 26, the end of the current term of President Pierre Nkurunziza, whose bid for a third mandate has led to protests.
The European Union, Belgium and the Netherlands suspended some aid last month to support the delayed elections. Diplomats said unrest meant the conditions were not right for a fair vote.
“We believe this was a very harsh decision," Abayeho said of the aid suspension. "We hope it will be reviewed.
"If there are no elections here, the country will sink into chaos," he said. "There will be lawlessness, there will be no elected institutions. What would happen here would be even worse than what they are imagining now."
Although protests have subsided in recent days, Burundi is facing its worst crisis since the end of an ethnically charged civil war in 2005.
That conflict pitted majority Hutu rebel groups, including one led by Nkurunziza, against an army led by minority Tutsis. The latest tensions worry a region with a history of ethnic conflict, particularly Rwanda, victim of a 1994 genocide.
The government of Burundi, one of the world's poorest nations, has earmarked 44 billion Burundi francs ($29 million). "If that is not enough, Burundi will knock on other doors," he said, without citing other donors.
He said the government had received donations after an appeal to citizens in Burundi and abroad, without giving figures.
"The elections will take place," he said. "That is guaranteed, because Burundians are contributing now, Burundians from inside and outside the country."
(Writing and additional reporting by Edmund Blair; Editing by Edith Honan)