Burundi’s president pushed back parliamentary and local elections to June 5 on Wednesday and further clashes between police and protesters broke out in a power struggle threatening to unleash more ethnic bloodshed in Africa’s Great Lakes region.
President Pierre Nkurunziza said the parliamentary and council vote would be postponed from May 26. His decree made no mention of the weeks of unrest in the capital Bujumbura or last week’s failed coup.
His spokesman told Reuters the decision followed requests from opposition politicians and the international community. The most contentious election, for president on June 26, remained unchanged, he said.
Delaying the vote is unlikely to appease the protesters who say Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term breaks a two-term limit in the constitution and a deal that ended a long, ethnically charged civil war in 2005.
An estimated 300,000 died in the conflict, which started around the same time as the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda, which shares the same ethnic mix as Burundi between a Hutu majority and Tutsi minority.
Some 800,000 people died in Rwanda’s genocide.
More than 20 people have been killed in nearly a month of unrest in Bujumbura, including last week’s botched putsch, but the demonstrations have shown few signs of dying down.
Following a now daily pattern, crowds gathered shortly after dawn, chanting slogans and facing off with lines of police and soldiers as they called for the 51-year-old former sports lecturer not to seek re-election.
Volleys of shots were heard in the Musaga neighborhood. Moments later, protesters ran along a street carrying a man with blood pouring from his hastily bandaged leg, a Reuters photographer said. The men said he had been shot by police.
South Africa, which helped broker an end to the civil war, called this week for the presidential election to be postponed indefinitely to allow stability to return.
However, diplomats fear the longer the crisis drags on, the greater the chance that the political struggle could re-open old wounds in a country with a long history of mass killing between Hutus and Tutsis.
So far, there have been few suggestions that the struggle is being driven by ethnicity.