UN Security Council weighs Burundi crisis

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United Nations (United States) (AFP) - The United Nations Security Council made an urgent appeal for calm and for fair elections in Burundi, but stopped short of addressing President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term.

UN special envoy Said Djinnit told the council's 15 member countries that conditions were "not ripe" for elections, according to the Lithuanian ambassador, who holds the body's rotating presidency.

Discussions are under way to move the vote to a later date in June, according to Djinnit.

The council members "called on all parties to refrain from violence," the Lithuanian envoy, Raimonda Murmokaite, said after the closed-door talks.

She said the council also "stressed the need to hold a credible, transparent, inclusive and peaceful electoral process and uphold the fundamental freedoms of opinion and assembly."

Asked about Nkurunziza's bid, Murmokaite recognized that "individual member states have different opinions so the council cannot pronounce itself on that issue because views vary."

Russia has blocked previous council initiatives seeking to take a position on Nkurunziza, saying the body should not get involved in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.

But Murmokaite insisted that the council meeting focused on the growing violence in Burundi. Protesters, meanwhile, called a one-day truce, saying the demonstrations would resume on Sunday.

US envoy Samantha Power warned of potential targeted sanctions from Washington on perpetrators of the violence.

She stressed that Washington considers Nkurunziza's efforts to seek a third term to be illegitimate, and urged him and his government to condemn the violence and call for restraint.

"We are seeing Burundi slide into violent turmoil," Power told reporters.

"Any further violence carries the risk of irreversible consequences."

She highlighted the distribution of weapons to youths backing the ruling party, in what she called an "extremely disturbing" development.

- Rising tensions -

Diplomats who attended the meeting, called by France, said Djinnit described the situation as tense in Burundi.

He stressed that informal discussions between opposition leaders and the government had focused on "conditions to appease the situation, but... focused on a (possible) third term" by Nkurunziza, diplomats said.

The East African Community bloc is on a fact-finding mission ahead of an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis on May 13 in Tanzania.

Djinnit said that the "EAC demands that the president publicly confirm that this will be his last term, guarantee political space for the opposition and address the flow of refugees."

More than 50,000 Burundians have fled their country since the start of political violence in April, according to the UN refugee agency UNHCR, which said that many more were trying to leave but faced hurdles.

"It is very important to illustrate the fact that the Security Council is fully mobilized to support the efforts of Said Djinnit and to stop the violence that we see and to create the conditions for a fair, transparent and inclusive election process," said French envoy Francois Delattre.

Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader from the Hutu majority who has been in power since 2005, has come under intense international pressure to withdraw.

At least 18 people have been killed, including protesters and police, and scores have been wounded since late April, when the ruling CNDD-FDD nominated Nkurunziza to stand for re-election, triggering daily protests.

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