Kenya's president has asked Burundi to postpone next month's election. The request follows a failed military coup last week and comes during a heavy security presence in the capital to put down further protests.
On Sunday, President Uhuru Kenyatta spoke with his Burundian counterpart by telephone, according to spokesman Manoah Esipisu, who said other East African Community leaders shared the view that Pierre Nkurunziza should postpone his June 26 re-election bid. Protests started April 26, after the president announced plans to retain power.
Presidential aide Willy Nyamitwe said Burundi "could decide to delay" the vote: "We will put everything in place for the laws and constitution to be respected and for elections to be held."
Critics say the president's bid violates a constitutional limit established in 2005, when he took office at the end of a war between Hutus and the minority Tutsis that left more than 300,000 people dead. The president says that because he was appointed rather than elected the first time around he may run again. The US, EU and African Union have criticized Nkurunziza's plan.
At least 20 protesters have died in clashes with police. Last week, top army generals, a former defense minister and two police commissioners attempted to oust Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader, in a coup while he was visiting neighboring Tanzania.
The United Nations reports that 100,000 Burundians have fled. The US, which closed its embassy in Bujumbura Friday, has helped 20 Americans, four Canadians and several other non-Burundians evacuate the country on commercial flights to neighboring Rwanda. "The security situation remains fluid and volatile because of militia, military and security forces activity in Bujumbura," State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said late Sunday.
On Sunday, Nkurunziza appeared publicly for thefirst time since the coup, sending a clear message that he intended to remain in charge of Burundi. Dressed in a blue blazer and polo shirt, the president smiled and shook hands with reporters at the presidency in Bujumbura's city center. He gave only a brief statement, without even mentioning the failed plot to overthrow him.
Instead, he spoke of external threats, bringing up the Somali group al-Shabab, which has carried out terror attacks in other East African nations, including Kenya.
Al-Shabab later dismissed the allegations, telling Reuters news agency in a statement that what Nkurunziza had said was "dumbfounding" and that the turmoil in Burundi was "clearly domestic."
Protesters vow to retake the streets, but Interior Minister Edouard Nduwimana called on the opposition to stay home. He said security forces might not differentiate between demonstrators and "extremists."
During the coup, loyalist troops forced independent radio off the air, and the opposition accuses Nkurunziza of repressing dissidents and media. The head of RPA radio has fled the country.
In a televised speech on Friday, Nkurunziza had also attempted to link protesters to the coup.
mkg/kms (Reuters, AFP, AP)