Burundi leader tightens grip as fallout mounts from coup attempt

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza announced Wednesday that he would postpone parliamentary elections until early June.

Goran Tomasevic/Reuters
Policemen confront demonstrators during a protest against Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza and his bid for a third term in Bujumbura Wednesday. The president pushed back parliamentary and local elections to June 5 on Wednesday and further clashes between police and protesters broke out.

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza announced Wednesday that he would postpone parliamentary elections until early June, adding to the fallout from last week’s failed coup attempt.

Presidential adviser Willy Nyamitwe told The Associated Press that the delay was requested by Burundi's electoral commission, as well as opposition leaders and the international community. The presidential election will still be held June 26.

The African Union had recommended before the coup attempt that Burundi postpone any vote following weeks of violent protests. The European Union has echoed that sentiment after the coup bid, while South Africa has called for the presidential elections to be delayed indefinitely until stability is restored. Mr. Nkurunziza has dismissed the recommendation for a delay in the presidential vote.

Consequences of the coup attempt – which occurred when the president was in Tanzania for a regional summit – begun to unfold on Monday, when Nkurunziza precipitously sacked his defense and foreign ministers. That move was the first sign of disruption within the administration, though Nkurunziza's office has denied that they were prompted by the coup attempt.

In a move that indicated that he is tightening his political circle, Nkurunziza appointed his spokesman’s brother as the new foreign minister.

"President does not have to explain," a spokesman told Reuters when asked for explanation. "Constitution gives him powers to (do) so."

This same questions of constitutional power and presidential mandates plunged Burundi into political crisis when Nkurunziza announced his bid for a third term in late April.

The constitution and a peace deal that ended the civil war in 2005 both specify a two-term presidential limit. Nkurunziza is relying on a court ruling that his first term does not count because he was appointed by parliament, not elected in a popular vote.

Already, weeks of protests – which resumed this week after a quiet weekend – have overtaken Bujumbura. These protests and the fact that the president's former intelligence chief led a coup to overthrow him have fueled the greatest level of violence Burundi has seen since the end of the ethnically-driven civil war. The coup leaders have since been rounded up and arrested.

But the violence seems to be sustaining itself, Reuters reports.

More than 20 people have been killed in nearly a month of unrest in Bujumbura, including last week's botched putsch, but the demonstrations have shown few signs of dying down.

Following a now daily pattern, crowds gathered shortly after dawn, chanting slogans and facing off with lines of police and soldiers as they called for the 51-year-old former sports lecturer not to seek re-election.

Volleys of shots were heard in the Musaga neighborhood. Moments later, protesters ran along a street carrying a man with blood pouring from his hastily bandaged leg, a Reuters photographer said. The men said he had been shot by police.

In addition, coup "supporters and independent journalists critical of the government have reportedly gone into hiding since Nkurunziza's return," DPA reports.

The United Nations says that 105,000 refugees have fled Burundi into neighboring Rwanda and Tanzania fearing that the violence could escalate. Conditions in the camps are dire as thousands of people arrive every day. On Tuesday, the Tanzanian health minister declared that cholera had been found in the refugee camps along Lake Tanganyika.

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