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Protests Continue in Burundi as President Dismisses Opposition Calls to Step Down Next Year

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Violent protests have continued since Sunday in Burundi, with a spokesman for the country’s president announcing that President Pierre Nkurunziza will continue with his bid for a third term in office.

On Wednesday, a telecoms official disclosed that authorities have cut mobile access to several social networks and messaging applications. Networks including Facebook, Twitter and WhatsApp, which have been used to organize protests, were no longer accessible via mobile telephone in the capital on Wednesday, with officials providing no explanation for the service cut. A telecoms source confirmed that operators had been ordered in writing by Burundi’s telecommunications regulator, ARCT, to block mobile access to certain sites.

The move to block mobile access to certain social networks and messaging applications came after three days of violent protests in the capital Bujumbura. On Tuesday, anti-government protests continued, with police reinforcements boosting the numbers of security forces deployed to the streets. While protesters remained defiant, most were contained in the side streets and were blocked from the city’s center. On the ground sources have reported that protesters burned tires and erected street barricades in the capital. On Monday, the ruling party indicated that the protests in the capital are “nothing short of rebellion.” Officials have accused the opposition of trying to make the country ungovernable.

This week’s protests in Burundi erupted on Sunday, a day after the country’s president was nominated as the ruling party’s candidate for a third term in office, a move that has prompted complaints from the opposition and drawn criticism from the United States. Security was tightened across the capital city as the ruling CNDD-FDD opened a special party congress, during which President Nkurunziza was officially designated as the party’s candidate. Opposition figures have indicated that the move is unconstitutional and have warned President Nkurunziza that his efforts to remain in power will push the country back into violence. They have vowed to defy a nationwide ban on demonstrations and warnings that the army could be deployed. Washington has also condemned Nkurunzia’s candidacy, warning that the central African nation “is losing an historic opportunity to strengthen its democracy.”

Despite this, a spokesman for President Pierre Nkurunziza stated Tuesday that the president will continue his bid for a third term in office. Presidential communications chief Willy Nyamitwe stated that “we wont back down, that is out of the question,” adding that he blamed demonstrators for the violence. The government has banned all protests and has deployed large numbers of police and troops onto the streets, with on the ground sources reporting that police have fired live ammunition, tear gas and water canons at protesters. Hundreds of stone-throwing protesters have been arrested. Officials have indicated that at least five people have died since clashes broke out Sunday. Sources have disclosed that some of the protesters killed were shot at close range. Police officials have indicated that at least 37 officers have been wounded.

According to the United Nations, more than 5,000 Burundians have fled to Rwanda over the weekend, effectively bringing the total number of arrivals in April to nearly 21,000. The Rwandan government has warned that the number of arrivals could increase to 50,000 as tensions in neighboring Burundi continue to rise. Ariane Rummery, spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, has disclosed that most of the new arrivals in Rwanda are women and children, noting that the refugees have reported facing intimidation and threats of violence that are linked to the upcoming elections. According to the UNHCR, since the beginning of this month 3,800 Burundian nationals have also fled to the South Kivu province of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Presidential elections in Burundi are due to be held on 26 June.

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