Opposition leader claims Burundi not ready for polls

Police and army clear barricades set by opposition demonstrators in the Cibitoke district of the capital Bujumbura, in Burundi Monday, May 25, 2015. Berthier Mugiraneza/AP

BUJUMBURA, Burundi – Burundi is not ready for parliamentary or presidential elections next month because the government is curtailing freedoms including preventing the opposition from campaigning, a leading opposition candidate said, as protests over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term continued in the Burundian capital, Bujumbura.

Burundian Red Cross reported that 21 people were injured in the streets protests Monday bringing the total of those injured to 471 since the start of the street battles that have seen police fire at demonstrators. At least 20 people have died in the clashes with police, according to the Red Cross.

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Nkurunziza cannot win if the elections are free and fair, said Agathon Rwasa, who is running as an independent candidate in the June 26 elections.

Rwasa, the leader of a former rebel group National Forces for Liberation who is now an opposition politician, said there is widespread intimidation of those opposed to Nkurunziza.

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“I don’t believe elections can be held in this environment,” Rwasa said. “Many are not there especially in opposition strongholds,” he said, referring to the more than 100,000 refugees who have fled Burundi for fear of violence ahead of the polls. Parliamentary elections are scheduled for June 5, while presidential polls are slated for June 26.

Protesters, who have been demonstrating for four weeks in opposition to Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office.

In Bujumbura’s Bwiza neighbourhood one protester was wounded after being shot by police, according to a witness who insisted on anonymity for fear of retribution.

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Protesters in the capital’s Buterere area put feces on their barricades, of rocks and cut-down telephone poles, to hinder their removal.

Those opposed to Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term say he is violating the constitution that limits a president to two five-year terms, and some protesters are vowing to stay on the streets until Nkurunziza says he will not run for re-election. Nkurunziza maintains he is eligible for a third term because he was elected by parliament for his first term, not a by a direct vote.

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Associated Press writer Gerard Nzohabona contributed to this report

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