Burundi’s army called on to protect protesters against ruling party youth wing, says civil society
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At least seven people have died and 66 injured in nearly a week of clashes between police and demonstrators in Burundi, with many suffering gunshot wounds, according to the Burundian Red Cross. Protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza standing for another term in office continued on Friday.
Opposition leaders and civil society say Nkurunziza’s attempt to stand for a third term is unconstitutional and breaks the Arusha Agreement peace deal.
The US State Department has called on Burundi’s authorities to stop supplying arms to the ruling party’s youth wing who have been using them to intimidate the opposition and civil society.
Around 25,000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries, according to the UN’s refugee agency. RFI spoke to the leader of a civil society group involved in the protests.
Interview: Pacifique Nininahazwe, President, Forum for Awareness and Development (FOCODE)
What are the latest developments you’re hearing about?
It’s the sixth day of demonstrations against the third term of Pierre Nkurunziza. People from all areas of Bujumbura are now protesting and some people in the provinces are also doing the same. But at the same time we also have the police who are firing on some people in some locations. But we are still determined. We’ll continue until the president announces that he’ll not stand as a candidate in the next elections.
How long do you think the protests will continue?
We don’t know. If it takes weeks, we’ll protest for weeks. If it’ll be short, it’s okay for us. But if he continues to ignore our call we’ll continue to demonstrate against him until he understands us.
What’s the role played by the ruling party’s youth wing (the Imbonerakure)?
We have some militia from the ruling party youth - who have weapons, who have military training – threatening our protesters in many, many locations. The people of Bujumbura are scared that they’ll be attacked during the night and sometimes we had to call on the army to protect people and demonstrators. Because the police support the militia, called the Imbonerakure, who are threatening the demonstrators and the people.
Have the opposition said yet whether they’ll support the protests?
We are together. Civil society and the main opposition parties are in the protests and demonstrations, we are together. Even within the leadership of the demonstrations, we are together.
Some people are trying to characterise the protests in Burundi as having an ethnic element to them – Hutus and Tutsis. Do you see an ethnic split?
No. The president’s spokesman tried to apply this label to the demonstrations in order to divide the protesters. But many leaders, Hutu leaders have spoken saying it’s not true. Even the former president Sylvestre Ntibantunganya said he salutes the protesters, the youth who are Hutus and Tutsis from many parties, who are demonstrating for Burundi’s dignity and the Burundian people. Yesterday, some areas which are mainly Hutu joined the protests and the police was very tough in these areas, for example in the area Kinama where they fired at people. The government is very angry at these areas which are majority Hutu. But this protest is for everybody, the Arusha accords are for all Burundians and I have to say here, even some members of the ruling party are part of the demonstrations. It is for all Burundians, it’s not an ethnic issue.
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