Top Burundi official flees on eve of polls
June 28 2015 11:19 PM
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Burundians carry boxes of electoral material in the Cibitoke suburb of Bujumbura.
Burundians carry boxes of electoral material in the Cibitoke suburb of Bujumbura.


AFP/Bujumbura

The head of Burundi’s parliament said yesterday he had fled the country on the eve of key elections following weeks of violence, denouncing the president’s “illegal” third term bid.
Amid international criticism of the government’s defiant refusal to delay the vote, parliament head Pie Ntavyohanyuma said he had fled to Belgium due to the violence, criticising President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to stay in power for a third term.
“For the moment, I am forced to stay in Brussels... I stayed here given the difficulties in my country, difficulties which are due to the illegal third mandate of the president,” parliament speaker Pie Ntavyohanyuma told France 24.
Several top officials - including the deputy vice-president Gervais Rufyikiri as well as members of the election commission and constitutional court - have also fled the poverty-stricken, landlocked country.
“On the eve of the election ... I would like to say to him (Nkurunziza) that the mandate he wants to have is illegal. I would like to say to him that forcing through the election is senseless,” Ntavyohanyuma told the broadcaster.
Opponents say his bid for another term is unconstitutional and violates a peace accord that paved the way to end 13 years of civil war in 2006.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for the elections due today to be delayed after the opposition said they would not take part, as Burundi faces its worst crisis since its civil war ended nine years ago.
But the government has defied all requests for a delay, and the electoral commission said yesterday all was ready for the polls.
“Everything is ready in the country,” election commission chief Pierre-Claver Ndayicariye told reporters, saying all voting material had been delivered to the more than 11,000 polling centres across the country.
Three people were killed overnight, adding to the more than 70 killed in weeks of violence and a failed coup sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to stay in power for a third term.
One was shot while another was killed in a grenade blast, according to witnesses. A soldier was killed accidentally by a comrade during a raid on a house.
Parliamentary and local elections set to be held today, followed by a presidential vote on July 15.
The opposition on Friday said it was boycotting the polls, claiming it is not possible to hold a fair vote, with over 127,000 people having fled into neighbouring countries, fearing further violence.
But Ndayicariye said the commission had not received any official notification confirming the withdrawal from the vote, meaning that the election would therefore progress without delay. Votes cast for the opposition would therefore still count, he said.
“This is nothing new in Burundi. In Africa, boycott is another way of doing politics,” he said. The opposition boycotted polls in 2010.
Key opposition leader Charles Nditije said a letter announcing a boycott had been handed to the commission, accusing it of “lying” so as to pretend the poll will be credible.
Burundi was plunged into turmoil in late April when Nkurunziza launched his drive for a third consecutive five-year term, triggering widespread protests.
Opponents say his bid for another term is unconstitutional and violates a peace accord that paved the way to end 13 years of civil war in 2006.
Civil society groups backed the boycott in a joint statement calling on voters to skip the “sham elections” and urging the international community “not to recognise the validity” of the polls.
“Thousands of Burundians have fled the country, a thousand peaceful demonstrators were arrested, tortured, and are currently languishing in jail,” the statement said.
Former colonial power Belgium has said it would not recognise the results of the elections, saying it is “impossible” for the polls to be held in an “acceptable manner”.
The ruling CNDD-FDD’s youth wing, the fearsome Imbonerakure whose name means “The Watchmen” or, literally, “Those Who See Far”, has been accused by the UN of waging a campaign of intimidation and violence.





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