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EU suspends mission to Burundi elections

May 28, 2015

The Catholic Church in Burundi has criticized upcoming elections, while the European Union's election observers are downing tools until the situation improves. Fair elections are "impossible," the opposition claims.

Proteste in Burundi
Image: AFP/Getty Images/C. de Souza

The European Union suspended its observer mission in Burundi on Thursday because of the crackdown on the opposition and the media, EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said on Thursday. The team, which the EU sent to Burundi over a month ago, can no longer fulfill its role of helping with "peaceful, credible and fair" elections, according to the EU's top diplomat.

"The election process continues to be seriously marred by restrictions on independent media, excessive use of force against demonstrators, a climate of intimidation for opposition parties and civil society and lack of confidence in the election authorities," Mogherini said in a statement.

Violence broke out in Burundi late in April, after president Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term, in a move his critic claim violates the constitution. A failed military coup seeking to oust Nkurunziza soon after only exacerbated the conflict. Some 25 people have died in the series of street protests; an estimated 200,000 Burundians fled the country in fear of possible escalation of violence.

The impoverished central African nation is inhabited by Tutsi and Hutu tribes, similar to neighboring Rwanda. Many observers fear that the current conflict could reopen the wounds of Burundi civil war, which claimed hundreds of thousands of lives from 1993 to 2003.

Church refusing to participate

Burundi's Catholic Church, which holds much influence in the predominantly Christian country, also withdrew it support for the June ballots on Thursday, and called for private radio stations closed by the government to be allowed back on the air.

"It's hardly conceivable that we would be able to conduct fair and transparent elections for all," Bishop Gervais Banshimiyubusa said In a radio statement.

The church has also told priests set to participate in electoral commissions to stand down.

Opposition: country has sunk into a 'mess'

The government said both the EU and the Catholic Church had made an error by withdrawing ahead of the ballot.

"They should stay and wait for the process to begin and report anything that comes from them," said Gervais Abayeho, the president's spokesman.

Parliamentary and local council elections would go ahead on June 5, according to the spokesman. A presidential vote is scheduled for June 26.

Burundi's government claims that postponement would create a dangerous political vacuum and risk even more unrest.

However, Burundi's main opposition parties said on Wednesday that foreign governments should not recognize the election results, adding that fair elections were "impossible."

"The country has sunk into a political and security mess which in no way can allow for peaceful, transparent, free or credible elections," the opposition representatives said in a joint statement. "Endorsing such a process is equivalent to supporting a predictable civil war in Burundi."

dj/msh (Reuters, AP, dpa, AFP)