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Journalists behind remaining protests – Burundi govt

12 June 2015, 11:43

Bujumbura - Burundi's government said on Thursday that weeks of protests against a third term bid by the president were over, claiming that the remaining demonstrators were only being organised by journalists.

The troubled central African nation has been in crisis since late April over President Pierre Nkurunziza's controversial bid to stand for a third consecutive five-year term, a move branded by opponents as unconstitutional and a violation of a 2006 peace deal that ended 13 years of civil war.

"There are no more demonstrations in Bujumbura or inside the country," Pierre Nkurikiye, deputy spokesperson for the security ministry and police said in a statement, adding that the media were to blame for the remaining pockets of protests.

"It is a movement of some journalists - especially those sent by the international media - who... organise groups of people in remote areas, away from police, and ask them to sing, to exhibit placards."

Independent media silenced

Several journalists who have been covering Burundi's crisis, which has seen weeks of street demonstrations, a violent police crackdown and a failed coup attempt by a section of the army, have complained of being subjected to threats - including death threats - by members of the police or other branches of the security forces.

Burundi's domestic independent media has also been largely silenced amid the unrest, with private radio stations attacked and destroyed during the coup attempt.

Protesters gathered in some suburbs of Bujumbura on Thursday - as they have done almost every day since April 26 - with hundreds chanting slogans and singing against Nkurunziza's third term bid.

Around 40 people have died in a police crackdown on the protests, and nearly 100 000 Burundians have sought refuge in neighbouring countries. Five were shot and wounded on Wednesday, according to witnesses.

50 journalists fled country

The United Nations' top envoy for Burundi on Thursday quit as mediator in the crisis, after his role was challenged by civil society leaders, who questioned his impartiality.

"Said Djinnit gave up his role as mediator in the Burundian crisis, but he will return to Bujumbura as the Special Envoy for the Great Lakes region," said Vladimir Monteiro, spokesperson for the UN mission in Burundi. No information was given as to a possible successor as mediator.

Djinnit appealed to all sides "to refrain from any acts likely to increase tension and violence" in a statement, urging they "continue their dialogue".

The UN this week warned that increasing violence by a pro-government militia, including executions, abductions and torture, was threatening to further destabilise the poverty-stricken, landlocked country.

"They could tip an already extremely tense situation over the edge," UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement on Tuesday.

"The last thing Burundi needs after a decade of gradual and largely successful peace-building is to be catapulted back into civil war because of a small number of people's ruthless determination to retain, or gain, power at any cost."

Rights group Amnesty International said this week that Burundian journalists were operating in a "climate of fear", while Reporters Without Borders said on Thursday that some 50 journalists had fled the country "for security reasons and say it is still too dangerous to go back".

Parliamentary elections are now slated for June 29 and a presidential poll on July 15, after delays due to the unrest.

Burundi's opposition, which has said that fair polls are not possible because independent media has been shut down and many opponents have fled the country, have accused the president of trying to force a vote regardless of the crisis.

Nkurunziza survived a coup attempt last month and has since faced down international pressure, including aid cuts, aimed at forcing him to reconsider his attempt to stay in power, which diplomats fear could plunge the country back into war.

The elections are also going ahead despite a string of resignations by election commission officials. On Wednesday Nkurunziza issued another decree allowing the remaining three out of five members of the commission, which had been paralysed by two resignations, to take majority decisions.

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