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Calm as Burundi truce starts after deadly protests

Late Friday, attackers hurled two grenades into a crowd at a central market in Burundi's capital, killing three people and wounding 40/AFP

Late Friday, attackers hurled two grenades into a crowd at a central market in Burundi’s capital, killing three people and wounding 40/AFP

BUJUMBURA,Burundi, May 23 – Burundian anti-government protesters began a two-day truce Saturday after almost a month of deadly violence triggered by the president’s bid for a third term culminating in a deadly grenade attack Friday.

The streets of the capital Bujumbura were calm and quiet, with some shops open and a few policemen sitting casually at junctions and roundabouts — a marked difference to protests that have left over 20 people dead since the crisis erupted in late April, and which has included a failed coup.

Late Friday, attackers hurled two grenades into a crowd at a central market in Burundi’s capital, killing three people and wounding 40.

The attack — the first of its kind to deliberately target a civilian crowd — followed some of the heaviest pushes by security forces to end weeks of demonstrations by thousands of protesters demanding President Pierre Nkurunziza step down.

Police said they were questioning a suspect, but linked the attack to the protest movement.

“Clearly it is one of a series of acts of violence carried out by the demonstrators,” police spokesman Pierre Nkurikiye said.

Civil society leader Pacifique Nininahazwe announced a weekend truce “to allow the people to bury with dignity those who died for democracy,” but added a warning that “protests will resume on Monday with even more force.”

Nininahazwe said that talks between the protesters, opposition parties and government had been taking place this week.

“We ask the government to show good faith by refraining to shoot protesters,” Nininahazwe added.

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“On our part, we promise a completely peaceful demonstration. If they continue to shoot, we will end the dialogue process.”

– Opposition and government talks –

The discreet negotiations have been supported by UN, African Union and regional nations.

UN chief Ban Ki-moon said Friday he was encouraged by this “political dialogue.”

The crisis, which began in late April after the ruling party nominated Nkurunziza to stand again in the June 26 presidential election, deepened last week when a top general staged a failed coup attempt.

Parliamentary polls, initially set for May 26, have been postponed to June 5.

Protesters torched election materials in two separate attacks south of the capital on Friday, electoral commission spokesman Prosper Ntahorwmiye said, destroying voting booths and ballot boxes. “Everything was burned,” Ntahorwmiye said.

Nkurunziza said in an address to the nation on Wednesday that most of the central African country was secure and that upcoming parliamentary and presidential votes would be peaceful.

Opposition and rights groups say that Nkurunziza’s bid for a third five-year term violates the constitution and conditions of a peace deal that ended a 13-year civil war in 2006.

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Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader and born-again Christian who believes he has divine backing to lead the country, argues that his first term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people.

Refugees continue to flee the violence, the majority to neighbouring Tanzania, where over 50,000 people are struggling in dire conditions on the shores of Lake Tanganyika.

Cholera has broken out in squalid camps there, with at least 31 people having died among a total of over 3,000 cases of the disease, with numbers growing by up to 400 cases a day, according to the UN refugee agency.

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