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Demonstrators face off against police officers during a protest (photo: SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Simon Maina/AFP/Getty Images

Burundi timeline

Sarah Steffen
May 12, 2015

Protests over current President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in office are raging in the country. More than 20 people have been killed during clashes. DW takes a look at key events in Burundi.


In 1962 Burundi gained independence from Belgium and was split from Rwanda - moving from colonial rule that cemented the Hutu-Tutsi division to a Tutsi-led monarchy. A bloody cycle of coups and ethnic killings started just a few years later.

In 1963 thousands of Hutus fled to neighboring Rwanda amid ethnic violence. In 1965 King Mwambutsa refused to appoint an elected Hutu prime minister, after Hutus had won the majority in parliament. Army chief Michel Micombero put down an attempted Hutu coup and went on to oust the king in 1966 and declared himself president.

Pierre Nkurunziza
President Nkurunziza wants to stay on for another term - that move has angered many in the countryImage: B. Smialowski/AFP/GettyImages

More than 100,000 Hutus were massacred in 1972/1973 by government forces. Several military coups took place before, in 1988, thousands of Hutus were massacred by Tutsis; thousands more fled to Rwanda.

Brutal civil war

A 1993-2006 civil war pitting Hutu rebels - who went on to form the ruling CNDD-FDD party - against the Tutsi-dominated army left more than 300,000 people dead, according to the United Nations. In 2000, the Arusha peace agreement was signed. The deal included an ethnic power-sharing formula and it stipulates that no president may serve more than two terms.

That's why many people took to the streets when current President Pierre Nkurunziza, a former Hutu rebel leader, announced on April 25, he was going to stand for a third term in office. Presidential elections are scheduled to take place on June 26. Both the European Union and the United States have urged Burundi to postpone those elections.

Protesters gather and chant slogans during clashes with riot police
Many people took to the streets to protest against a possible third term of NkurunzizaImage: Reuters/T. Mukoya

After Nkurunziza's announcement, opposition parties called for peaceful protests against what it refers to as a "coup." In turn, the government has banned protests and called them an "insurgency."

Protests started on April 26 when thousands of demonstrators defied the ban and took to the streets. Security forces were deployed in large numbers - three people died in clashes, according to the Red Cross. Two more were killed in overnight raids.

Burundi gags media, human rights activists

On April 27, civil leaders were arrested - the head of Burundi's main human rights association was held for 30 hours. Officials shut down independent African Public Radio Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) amid accusations it was broadcasting calls to protest. Two other radio stations were not allowed to broadcast beyond city borders.

Police raided the Maison de la Presse (Press Club) in the capital Bujumbura and forced the Media Synergy Studio - which is an alliance of five radio stations cooperating on election coverage - to stop broadcasting. Two days later, access to some social media sites via mobile phones was also blocked.

A Burundian protester wearing a gas mask and holding a sign that reads
'Stop the third mandate' this protester demands in the country's capital BujumburaImage: Getty Images/AFP/P. Moore

On May 2, Burundi's security minister General Gabriel Nizigama vowed to crack down on what he called "criminals, terrorists and even enemies of the country" after a grenade attack that killed three - including two police officers - and wounded 17 people.

The country's defense minister later declared the army's neutrality and called for an end to attacks on citizens. However, the chief of staff of Burundi's army later stated the military was loyal to the country's authorities.

Constitutional court: Nkurunziza allowed to run

On May 5, Burundi's constitutional court said Nkurunziza was allowed to run for a third term. According to its ruling, his first term did not count as he was elected by parliament and not directly by the people.

However, the court's vice president fled the country after refusing to sign the judgment, claiming the judges were subject to death threats.

Meanwhile, on May 6, Nkurunziza reaffirmed his bid to run for a third term, despite increasing pressure at home and abroad. Civil society groups said at least 12 people were killed during the protests - police put the number at six.

A soldier walks past a barricade erected on the road by demonstrators protesting against the ruling CNDD-FDD party's decision to allow Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a third five-year term in office
So far, more than 20 people have died during clashes in BurundiImage: Reuters/J. P. Aime Harerimana

On May 7, at least four people were killed in fresh clashes in the country. One death was recorded in a town outside the capital - it's the first death recorded outside Bujumbura since protests started. The African Union warned that "the environment is not conducive for an election."

On May 12, police opened fire on protesters. Human rights organization APRODH put the death toll of more than two weeks of anti-government protests at over 20.

More than 50,000 Burundians are estimated to have fled into neighboring countries since the unrest began. On Wednesday, May 13, leaders of the East African Community - consisting of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda and Burundi - are due to hold an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis.

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