June 10, 2015 / 10:24 AM / 4 years ago

Burundi opposition figures call for boycott of delayed vote

BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - Several leading opposition figures in Burundi called on Wednesday for a boycott of next month’s presidential vote, saying it would be impossible to hold it during unrest triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term.

Protesters who are against Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza and his bid for a third term march in Bujumbura, Burundi, June 4, 2015. REUTERS/Goran Tomasevic

The poll has already been delayed by almost three weeks to July 15 after repeated clashes between security services and crowds who say the president’s move breaks the constitution and a deal that ended an ethnically charged civil war in 2005.

“We call to the boycott of all elections, from now ... Such a calendar in this political unrest is nonsense,” Charles Nditije from the opposition UPRONA party said in a statement.

“We want dialogue to discuss on disarmament, medias re-opening, return of refugees, political leaders security, and elections,” said the statement, which was co-signed by the MRC opposition party.

Presidential spokesman Gervais Abayeho said this week that any debate about Nkurunziza’s re-election bid was “closed”.

A month and a half of protests have plunged the nation into its deepest crisis for a decade, alarming a region with a history of ethnic conflict, particularly next door Rwanda, which has the same ethnic mix and suffered a genocide in 1994.

The electoral commission CENI proposed the new date after east African leaders called for a delay, government officials have said.

Opponents have criticized the election body, saying it has not acted neutrally and no longer has legitimacy since two of its five members have quit. Officials dismiss charges of bias.

Frederic Bamvunginyumvira, leader of the opposition party Frodebu, said CENI had not respected the leaders demand for a delay of at least 45 days from the original date of June 26.

Protests have subsided recently, after almost daily clashes between demonstrators hurling stones and police who have fired teargas and shot at protesters. Civil society activists say more than 30 people have been killed.

Prominent civil society activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa said protests would resume.

He said Nkurunziza could only win another term by rigging the poll and, if he did, “we will protest the five years and two months until Pierre Nkurunziza leaves”, a reference to the next five-year presidential term that begins in August.

Officials say they will ensure a fair vote next month.

The president points to a ruling by the constitutional court that found his first term did not count because he was picked by lawmakers and not elected.

For now, the row has remained a power struggle between supporters and opponents of Nkurunziza, with Hutus and Tutsis in both groups. But diplomats worry that, the longer violence continues, the more chance old ethnic wounds will reopen.

The United States has urged regional leaders to tell Nkurunziza not to run. European Union donors have halted aid for the polls, saying conditions for a vote are not right.

Writing and additional reporting by Edmund Blair; Editing by Edith Honan and Andrew Heavens

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