Burundi warns army could be called out over protests

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Bujumbura (Burundi) (AFP) - Burundi's government warned Monday it could call out the army if protests escalate over controversial plans by President Pierre Nkurunziza to defy a two-term limit and seek re-election.

The warning from senior cabinet ministers comes after last Friday's clashes between demonstrators and police. On Saturday, prosecutors said 65 protesters were charged with rebellion after their arrest.

Tensions in the small, landlocked central African nation have been mounting for months, with opposition parties and rights groups concerned at Nkurunziza's expected bid for re-election in June.

The president has not yet confirmed whether he intends to try to stay in power, but his supporters say he has the right to do so.

Burundi's Defence Minister, General Pontien Gaciyubwenge, said "one of the missions" of the army was to help maintain security in the event of worsening civil unrest.

"At the request of the Supreme Commander (the president) or another authority, I am ready to accompany the other security actors in resisting the detractors of peace, and together seek peace for the people of Burundi," he told reporters.

Security Minister General Gabriel Nizigama backed up the warning, saying that when it came to any "disturbance of public order and public safety, we say to you: 'the defence and security forces are united'."

"The forces of order and the administration will take all necessary measures to punish and bring to justice the perpetrators, instigators of these calls for uprisings," Interior Minister Gabriel Nizigama also said at the news conference.

Burundi, situated in Africa's troubled Great Lakes region, only emerged from a brutal 13-year civil war in 2006. It holds general elections in May to elect lawmakers before a presidential poll in June.

Five opposition parties, as well as splinter groups of the ruling CNDD-FDD who oppose Nkurunziza, have launched a campaign calling for the president not to run again.

The CNDD-FDD is expected to hold a party congress by the end of April to nominate its presidential candidate in the polls.

The UN Security Council on Friday warned that the upcoming elections could turn violent and vowed to take action against those who are fomenting unrest.

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