, BUJUMBURA, March 16- A key Burundi opposition party has been suspended for four months, Interior Minister Edouard Nduwimana said late Saturday night, amid worsening tensions in the small central African nation.
The four month suspension of the Movement for Solidarity and Development (MSD) follows violent clashes in the capital Bujumbura on March 8 that pitted party activists against police.
In a statement overnight on national television, the minister said MSD leader Alexis Sinduhije had “incited party militants to acts of revolt, hatred and violence”.
Sinduhije and party militants had “committed barbaric acts by kidnapping, holding and undressing police officers”, the minister alleged, suspending the party’s activities for four months and closing its headquarters across the country.
Francois Nyamoya, MSD secretary general, called the decision “unfair” but urged party militants to respect it.
“On Saturday (March 8) our militants were staging a calm demonstration when they were taken to task by the police,” he said.
Nyamoya added: “We had already effectively been suspended because for months now the government has prevented us from demonstrating or even from holding meetings”.
Burundi on Wednesday charged Sinduhije, who is on the run from police, and 71 party supporters with rebellion following the March 8 clashes. Those charged face life in jail if found guilty.
They were arrested after taking part in what state prosecutor Arcade Nimubona called a “group jog” to the centre of Bujumbura, where they were dispersed by riot police firing tear gas.
An AFP reporter said some 200 people sought refuge at the party headquarters, taking two officers hostage, before police stormed the building.
Clashes lasted for over an hour, with at least 20 activists and five policemen wounded.