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Burundi Protesters Clash With Police; Army Deployed

by VOA News April 27, 2015

Police in Burundi have clashed for a second day with protesters demonstrating against President Pierre Nkurunziza and his controversial decision to run for a third term.

Witnesses tell VOA Central African Service police used tear gas, water cannon and live ammunition to disperse hundreds of protesters Monday in the capital, Bujumbura. The demonstrators managed to assemble despite security forces blocking roads and a government ban on rallies.

Hospital sources say that at least three people have died since the protests began Sunday.

On Saturday, the ruling CNDD-FDD party nominated Nkurunziza to run for a third term. Critics say a third term would violate Burundi's 2005 post-civil war constitution.

Nkurunziza's eligibility comes down to the wording of a formative peace agreement and the constitution.

Burundi's existing political structures were founded on the 2000 Arusha agreement, which brought to an end the civil war between Hutu and Tutsi factions that killed up to 300,000 people. That agreement says the president can serve no more than two terms in office.

But the 2005 constitution states the president must be elected through "universal direct suffrage," interpreted to mean a popular vote. Nkurunziza was elected by parliament to his first term, so his supporters argue he is eligible to run again.

There is concern in Burundi the president's ambitions for a third term in office could re-ignite violence in the country.

President Nkurunziza has faced revolt from within his own party over his presumed candidacy. Seventy-nine members of the ruling party wrote the president last month asking him not to seek office.

His government has been under fire from rights groups and the international community for excluding the opposition and silencing voices of dissent.

Rights groups have accused the ruling party of arming its youth wing, known as the Imbonerakure, and using them to attack opponents in the past. Human Rights Watch last month said members of the group assisted the police and military in executing 47 people following a confrontation with an unnamed armed group in northwestern Cibitoke province.

The international community, including the United Nations, the United States and the African Union have urged Burundian political actors to respect the rule of law and hold fair elections, without much weighing into the debate about whether the president has the legal authority to run.

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