Burundi president warns against Al-Shabab threat

President Pierre Nkurunziza
President Pierre Nkurunziza

President Pierre Nkurunziza

Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza on Sunday made his first official appearance since an attempted coup, looking relaxed and appearing confident that he was in full control of the central African nation.

Nkurunziza pointedly ignored the coup attempt and spoke only about reported threats from Somalia’s Al-Qaeda-linked Shabab militants, who have warned of mounting attacks against Burundi and other states that contribute troops to the African Union force in Somalia.

“We have taken measures against Al-Shabab. We take this threat seriously,” the president said.

Nkurunziza has been facing weeks of violent and deadly street protests over his controversial bid to stand for a third consecutive term in office. On Wednesday a group of top generals announced they were overthrowing him while he was on a visit to neighboring Tanzania.

But on Friday the coup leaders admitted defeat, having failed to capture the state broadcaster after fierce fighting with loyalist troops. Seventeen alleged plotters appeared in court on Saturday while the alleged ringleader is still said to be on the run.

Addressing the domestic crisis, Willy Nyamitwe, a close aide to the president, said Burundi’s election commission “could decide to delay” Burundi’s parliamentary and presidential votes — although he gave no indication that Nkurunziza had changed his mind about standing for re-election.

“We will put everything in place for the laws and constitution to be respected and for elections to be held within the time limit set out,” he said, insisting a delay would not be used as a pretext for Nkurunziza to prolong his rule.

Parliamentary elections are due to take place on May 26, and presidential polls on June 26. Nyamitwe suggested they could be delayed by “two or three days, by a week.”

Opposition and rights groups insist that Nkurunziza’s bid for a third consecutive five-year term is against the constitution and the terms of the peace deal that brought an end to the country’s civil war in 2006. The president has also been accused of intimidating opponents and failing to lift the fortunes of one of the poorest countries on the planet.

Nkurunziza, however, argues that his first term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people. A former rebel leader from the Hutu majority, Nkurunziza is also a born-again Christian who maintains he has divine backing to lead the small landlocked country.

The group of 17 alleged coup plotters, including a former defense minister and two top police commissioners, appeared before a state prosecutor on Saturday to face accusations of “attempting to overthrow the state.”

“No one is going to be killed,” Nyamitwe told reporters. “Some of them surrendered and others have been caught by security forces. The others who are still on the run are being sought by the police and the army to be brought to justice. All of them are going to be judged.”

Bujumbura was calm on Sunday, although civil society and opposition activists have vowed to resume street protests on Monday. Weeks of protests have already left at least 20 people dead, many of them shot by police dispersing the demonstrations.


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