East African leaders meeting in Tanzania to discuss a political crisis in Burundi triggered by the president’s plan to run for a third term have called for the postponement of elections by at least a month and a half. Protests erupted in Burundi in late April in response to President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for another term in June 26 polls, a move critics say violates the constitution.
The heads of state of Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya, which together with Burundi and Rwanda form the East African Community (EAC) common market, attended the summit. They were joined by South African President Jacob Zuma. “The summit called for a longer postponement of elections in Burundi for a period not less than one and a half months,” said Richard Sezibera, the secretary general of the EAC. The leaders had previously called for the vote to be postponed, to create the right conditions for voting, but to be held within Nkurunziza’s current mandate that ends in August.
Nkurunziza, who faced a coup attempt while in Dar es Salaam for the first summit on May 13, did not attend the meeting. He was represented by the country’s foreign minister, Alain Aime Nyamitwe.Rwanda also sent a minister rather than the head of state, a Tanzanian foreign ministry official said. The summit also called for the urgent disarmament of all youth factions allied to political parties in Burundi. Nkurunziza’s ruling CNDD-FDD party’s youth wing, the so- called Imbonerakure, has been accused of carrying out some of the violence that has rocked Burundi for weeks.
“The leaders have been trying to navigate our way so we can help the people of Burundi to land safely under the current circumstances,” Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete told a news conference after the summit. Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term unleashed Burundi’s worst political crisis since an ethnically-driven civil war ended in 2005. The president’s supporters say a constitutional court ruling allows him to run again. In the Burundian capital Bujumbura, low-key protests took place on Sunday in some suburbs of the city including Cibitoke, Buterere and Mutakura.
One person was injured late on Saturday when a grenade exploded in the city center. Rights groups say at least 20 people have been killed by police since protests began. There are fears violence could lead to renewed ethnic bloodletting between the Hutu and Tutsi communities. More than 90,000 Burundians have fled the country, according to new figures from the U.N.’s refugee agency UNHCR.