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Amid unrest, Burundi president delays polls by one week

Giving in to pervasive political pressure, Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza has postponed elections to the first week of June. Over 100,000 Burundians remain displaced across the region.

President Pierre Nkurunziza signed a decree delaying parliamentary and local council elections in Burundi by one week, moving the vote to the first week of June. Nkurunziza's decision to seek a controversial third term in office set off unrest and an attempted coup in the country.

Presidential adviser Willy Nyamitwe said that the president had made the decision following a recommendation from the country's election commission. Nyamitwe added that the polls were pushed back "to answer

calls of the region

and the international community."

The elections were originally planned for May 26, but opposition parties requested a postponement of the polls after widespread political unrest gripped wide parts of the east African state in the aftermath of a

foiled coup d'état

.

Weeks of unrest

Street protests

have since become a daily occurrence on the street of Burundi's capital, Bujumbura, with police firing tear gas and shots at the crowds. At least 20 people were killed as part of the street battles.

Demonstrators said Nkurunziza's aspiration to a third time in office violated the nation's constitution. But Nkurunziza argued that his bid is legitimate, as he had been appointed to his first term by parliament - not by direct, popular vote.

The division in Burundi might threaten the peace accord that ended the country's 13-year civil war in 2006. As many as 300,000 people died in the conflict, which was characterized by mass ethnic killing between Burundi's Hutu majority and Tutsi minority.

But the balance of power has been fragile with the nation's military, which had been in charge of keeping the peace since the end of the war, showing signs of internal rifts. The attempted coup against the government was led by Major General Godefroid Niyombare, one of the most senior figures in the armed forces. During the revolt, soldiers were seen battling each other on open streets, while more than 100,000 people fled to neighboring nations in a bid to escape the violence.

European Union leaders and regional heavyweight South Africa criticized the move to delay the elections by only a week, calling for an indefinite date instead.

ss/sms (Reuters, AFP)

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