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Burundi opposition leader calls for unity government to avert conflict
July 22, 2015 / 1:00 PM / 2 years ago

Burundi opposition leader calls for unity government to avert conflict

BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - Burundi’s leading opposition politician called on President Pierre Nkurunziza to hold talks with rivals and form a national unity government after a disputed election, saying it could help avert a new conflict in the poor African nation.

Agathon Rwasa, a former rebel leader like Nkurunziza in Burundi’s civil war, told Reuters action was needed to prevent generals behind a foiled coup in May taking up arms in a crisis triggered by Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office.

The opposition has accused Nkurunziza of violating the constitution by seeking another term and boycotted Tuesday’s vote, all but handing him victory. The president cited a court ruling saying he could run again.

Provisional results could be announced this week.

“Some have already been waving the threat of armed struggle,” Rwasa, the head of the opposition Amizero y‘Abarundi coalition told Reuters in a villa overlooking the capital.

One of the generals behind the May coup attempt told Reuters this month that force was the only option after dialogue and international pressure had failed to stop Nkurunziza running.

Nkurunziza’s third-term bid has plunged the nation into its worst crisis since the end of a civil war in 2005, stoking tensions in a region with a history of ethnic conflict.

“For the sake of Burundi, the idea of a government of national unity can be accepted,” Rwasa said.

Burundi opposition leader Agathon Rwasa speaks during an interview in the capital Bujumbura, July 22, 2015. REUTERS/Mike Hutchings

His demands from the government included preparing for early elections, which meant that any new term for Nkurunziza be limited to six months or a year. He also said those given posts in a unity cabinet must have real influence on policy, to tackle issues such as corruption and fixing strained foreign relations.

President Nkurunziza’s adviser said the leader would not oppose a unity government. ”We are ready to do so,” Willy Nyamitwe told Reuters. But he rejected as “impossible” the idea of cutting short any new mandate.

FORMIDABLE RIVAL

People cycle to their polling centres in Mwumba Commune of Buye hill in Ngozi province, northern Burundi, July 21, 2015. REUTERS/Evrard Benjamin

Rwasa, a candidate who like others pulled out of the race, is widely seen as Nkurunziza’s most formidable rival, with support in the capital and in the countryside, where the president has his powerbase.

Rwasa acknowledged it was “hard to believe” the government would accept a unity government along the lines he outlined, but said international pressure might help push for new elections.

The government has in the past accused the opposition of trying to secure power through talks because they feared defeat at the ballot box. Opponents say the vote was unfair, citing a media clampdown and violence they blamed on the government.

Rwasa said his message to the failed coup plotters now threatening force was: “War can only destroy, while dialogue can help us overcome all these troubles of ours.”

The African Union said on Wednesday it had started sending military observers, to check on an agreement to disarm militias, and human rights experts to Burundi.

The tension particularly worries neighboring Rwanda, which has the same ethnic mix and suffered a genocide in 1994 that killed 800,000 people.

Reporting by Edmund Blair and Clement Manirabarusha; Editing by George Obulutsa and Andrew Heavens

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