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UN Secretary General repeats concern for Burundi elections

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has again expressed concern about Burundi holding elections despite a prevailing political crisis. Ban had previously called for the vote to be postponed.

Parliamentary polls have officially opened in Burundi on Monday for a controversial general election that has sparked months of unrest.

In a statement issued on Sunday, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon decried the Burundi government's insistence on going ahead with elections on Monday.

A UN spokesperson said in a statement, "The Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon emphasizes the responsibility of the Government of Burundi to ensure that elections take place in a secure environment and also to guarantee the safety and security of UN observers so that they can perform their mandated responsibilities free from intimidation or harassment."

Rights activists say at least 77 people have died

in street protests opposing President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in the July 15 presidential elections. Hundreds more have been wounded and an estimated 127,000 people having fled into neighboring countries, fearing further violence.

The UN Security Council had mandated observers for the elections and sent a team to help the parties in Burundi to reach a consensus on the way forward for holding "free, fair, inclusive and peaceful elections." But Sunday's statement from Ban's office said, "The Secretary-General deplores the intransigence of the parties that caused those important efforts to be inconclusive."

The African Union has said it will not act as observer in the parliamentary elections on Monday as conditions were unsuitable for free, fair, transparent and credible elections. Opposition parties have announced a boycott of the vote.

Protest

The speaker of parliament - Burundi's second highest ranking official - fled to Belgium ahead of the election. Pie Ntavyohanyuma said Sunday he had fled due to the violence and criticized Nkurunziza's bid to stay in power for a third term.

Belgium said it was "impossible" for the polls to be held in an "acceptable manner" and that it will not recognize the result.

Ban called on all political leaders in Burundi to consider the "wider interest" of the people. He also appealed to all Burundians to refrain from violent acts.

Violent protests began in April when Nkurunziza announced he would stand for a third term. The opposition condemned the decision as unconstitutional but it was upheld in the courts.

It is the worst political crisis since Burundi emerged from 13 years of civil war in 2006.

The government has refused all requests for a delay in the vote. "Everything is ready in the country," election commission chief Pierre-Claver Ndayicariye told reporters on Sunday. He said all voting material had been delivered to the more than 11,000 polling centers across the country.

jm/bk (AFP, Reuters)

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