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Burundi protesters gather in capital, defying threat of crackdown

Burundian refugees rest with their belongings on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in Kagunga village in Kigoma region in western Tanzania

By Ed Cropley

More than 100 protesters chanted slogans against Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza and his bid for a third term in office on Tuesday in defiance of government threats of a crackdown on demonstrations.

“We will not stop until he gives up the third term,” the protesters shouted in the capital’s suburb of Nyakabiga, a flashpoint during three weeks of unrest that have triggered fears of another bout of ethnic bloodletting in Africa’s Great Lakes region.

Protesters say Nkurunziza’s bid for five more years in power violates the constitution and a peace deal that ended an ethnically-fuelled civil war in Burundi in 2005.

A group of generals, laying the same charge against the president, tried and failed to overthrow him last week. The government said late on Monday it would treat any future demonstrators as accomplices in the failed putsch.

But the protesters in Bujumbura said they were against both Nkurunziza and the attempted coup.

“No to the coup, and no to the third term. We will continue until he says no to the third term,” one of the demonstrators, who gave his name as Jean-Paul, told Reuters. He did not wish to give his last name, for fear of reprisals.

Police and soldiers watched the demonstration from the other end of the street.

Burundi, an impoverished nation with a population of 10 million, is still recovering from its civil war that killed about 300,000 people.

Neighbouring Rwanda, which shares a similar ethnic mix between a Hutu majority and Tutsi minority, suffered a genocide in 1994 genocide in which 800,000 people, mostly Tutsis and moderate Hutus, were killed.

Nkurunziza says his participation in elections this year would not violate a two-term limit in the constitution, as his first term does not count, because he was appointed by parliament not chosen by a popular vote.

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