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Burundi's president urges ethnic harmony, downplays unrest

President Nkurunziza has called on Hutus and Tutsis not to renew the ethnic violence. Despite violence in the capital, and a failed coup attempt, the president said that "99.99 percent" of Burundi was peaceful.

Burundi's embattled President Pierre Nkurunziza appealed for ethnic unity between Hutus and Tutsis in a televised address on Wednesday, while also warning the media that they were "encouraging insurrection" by their manner of reporting.

Nkurunziza's speech came after a failed coup and weeks of violent protests that have continued despite the president's warning that protesters would be seen as coup supporters. The demonstrators are angry that the president is seeking a third term in the upcoming June elections, which they see as violating not only the constitution but also peace accords between the Hutus and Tutsis in 2006 that brought an end to more than a decade of civil war.

"No Burundian wants to revive the tensions of ethnic division or any other nature," Nkurunziza, who has mixed Hutu-Tutsi parentage, said. "The blood that was spilt in the past has taught us a lesson."

Thousands flee, police threaten journalists

More than 20 people have been killed in the unrest which has often pitted protesters against the police in the capital Bujumbura, while more than 100,000 have fled to neighboring countries to escape the violence.

In his speech, the president asked those who had fled "to come back home," as reports mounted of the squalid conditions in which many fleeing Burundians had found themselves. In neighboring Tanzania, news agency Reuters reported that 33 had died of a cholera outbreak in one refugee camp on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Following an international outcry, Nkurunziza had already announced he would delay legislative and local elections, originally meant to be held on May 26, to the first week of June. Despite this move, the president insisted that his nation was at peace with the exception of an insignificant part of the capital.

He said that "99.99 percent of the territory is in piece…the protests are only in 4 communes in Bujumbura."

In contrast to Nkurunziza's downplaying of the protests, journalists said they were threatened on Wednesday, with one senior police officer warning "leave the area or we will shoot you with the protesters."

Amid the chaos in the streets, one soldier was shot dead. The military has been deployed to assist the police in quelling the anti-government demonstrations following an attempted coup that saw a popular general attempted to wrest power from Nkurunziza's administration by force.

Opposition politicians were critical of the decision to move the elections a mere ten days to June 5.

"We are not satisfied by the postponement because the problems of Burundians have not been solved," said Frederic Bamvuginyumvira, vice president of opposition party FRODEBU.

es/msh (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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