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African leaders push for peace in Burundi

May 31, 2015

East African leaders have urged Burundi to delay elections by at least a month and a half. Their summit in Tanzania has called on all parties in Burundi to stop violence.

Burundi Proteste Straßenbarrikade
Image: Reuters/G. Tomasevic

The second regional summit on the Burundi crisis opened in Dar es Salaam on Sunday, aimed at helping to resolve the turmoil in Burundi over President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid to stand for a third term.

Tanzania's foreign minister Bernard Membe told reporters that regional leaders would seek a solution to the political turmoil in Burundi and discuss the plight of refugees fleeing from the east African country because of the violence. At the beginning of the summit, East African leaders said that elections in Burundi should be delayed by at least a month and a half.

"The summit, concerned at the impasse in Burundi, strongly calls for a long postponement of the elections not less than a month and a half," the East African Community (EAC) said in a statement by secretary general, Richard Sezibera.

In spite of the political crisis, Burundi's government insisted that parliamentary elections were to take place on June 5, while a presidential poll was scheduled for June 26. Agathon Rwasa, the country's main opposition leader, said elections would be a "masquerade" if they went ahead.

The president of Burundi did not attend the summit. "He will be represented by his foreign minister. He is campaigning and decided to delegate his minister", Nkurunziza's spokesman Gervais Abahiro told AFP.

The summit was organized by members of the EAC, which groups Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi.

'Burundian government should listen to the people'

Human rights groups said that at least 20 people have been killed by the police since protests erupted in late April. Burundi's worst political crisis since the end of an ethnically-driven civil war in 2005 started when President Nkurunziza announced his decision to run for a third term.

Critics say that his bid violates the constitution, while the president's supporters argue that a constitutional court ruling allows him to run for a third term. One of the judges fled the country, claiming that members of the constitutional court were subject to death threats. On Saturday, the vice president of Burundi's election commission also fled the country.

According to the U.N.'s refugee agency UNHCR, more than 70,000 Burundians have fled their country. Many have headed to Tanzania, Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Two days before the summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania's foreign minister Bernard Membe told state-run TBC1 television: "Our position is that we call on the Burundian people to remain calm and we urged the government to listen to them."

das/bw (AFP, Reuters)