BUJUMBURA, Burundi, May 6 – East African leaders will meet next week to mediate the political crisis in Burundi, Tanzania’s foreign minister said, following days of violent protests against a third term bid by President Pierre Nkurunziza.
The “extraordinary summit” meeting of the five-nation regional East Africa Community – which includes Burundi – would take place in Tanzania’s economic capital Dar es Salaam on May 13, Bernard Membe said.
Earlier government and opposition rivals in Burundi held talks on ending deadly demonstrations against a third term bid by the president, officials said Wednesday, as international concern mounted over the crisis.
Protesters have defied calls to end demonstrations, after more than a week of running battles in which over a dozen people have been killed. UN refugee chief Antonio Guterres said he was “extremely worried” as tens of thousands fled the small central African nation.
President Pierre Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader from the Hutu majority who has been in power since 2005, has come under intense international pressure to withdraw from the June 26 presidential poll.
“This is a last chance meeting, they have to come up with concrete solutions so that elections can be held in acceptable conditions,” a diplomat said of the talks, warning international funding for polls could be cut if a deal was not struck.
US Secretary of State John Kerry said on Monday he was “deeply concerned” about Nkurunziza’s decision to stand again, which he said “flies directly in the face of the constitution”.
The rivals met late Tuesday and talks were expected to continue Wednesday, as protests continued in some areas of the capital.
East African foreign ministers, from neighbouring Rwanda and Tanzania, as well as Kenya and Uganda, have also arrived “to propose ways out of crisis,” foreign ministry spokesman Daniel Kabuto said.
Clashes between rival groups took places in parts of the capital Wednesday, with witnesses reporting at least two grenade explosions. Burundi Red Cross spokesman Alexis Manirakiza said 16 people were wounded.
However, Burundi’s foreign ministry said that “peace and security reigned” across the country, apart from “a few districts of the capital… shaken by illegal demonstrations and violence triggered by certain political opponents.”
The meetings come after furious protesters dismissed a constitutional court ruling that allows Nkurunziza to run – a decision made after the court’s vice-president refused to sign the judgement and fled the country instead.
Vice President Prosper Bazombanza has pleaded for protests to end, offering to release demonstrators who have been arrested, lift arrest warrants issued for key civil society leaders and reopen independent radio stations – provided “protests and the insurrection stop”.