, BUJUMBURA, Burundi, Jun 5 – An aide to Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza on Thursday called for “a frank and constructive dialogue” with the opposition, who have driven weeks of street protests against his bid to stand for a third term.
Nkurunziza’s communications advisor, Willy Nyamitwe, said although the government considered the president’s bid to be perfectly legal, he said for the first time that the matter was not “taboo”.
“It is true that during previous discussions, we have left the issue on the menu” during a summit of regional powers that was held in neighbouring Tanzania last Sunday, he told AFP.
“So this question (of a third mandate) should not come up again. But for the president, it is not a taboo subject,” he added, urging the opposition to engage in “a frank, constructive dialogue” so that elections can be held.
Although still standing by Nkurunziza’s bid for re-election, the comments nevertheless mark a more conciliatory stance by the authorities — who have previously said the entire matter was not up for discussion.
Close to 40 people have died in protests that began when Nkurunziza announced in late April that he would stand again, after Burundi’s constitutional court gave him the green light. Opponents say his candidacy is unconstitutional and goes against the 2006 Arusha peace deal that ended 13 years of civil war.
Nkurunziza survived a coup attempt last month and has since ignored international pressure, including aid cuts, aimed at forcing him to reconsider.
On Wednesday the presidency said parliamentary polls that were scheduled for Friday would be postponed. The presidential election is still on the calendar for June 26.
– UN call to disband armed youth groups –
Nyamitwe told AFP that the president signed off Thursday on the decree postponing the parliamentary vote.
“The president did not give a date because the (electoral commission) has proposed several possibilities,” said Nyamitwe.
He has said the new timetable would take into account recommendations from regional leaders as well as constitutional limits.
A group of 17 political parties and organisations also issued a joint statement on Wednesday reaffirming their “commitment to continued dialogue” aimed at ensuring “free, calm, transparent and credible elections”.
For the second consecutive day Thursday, police in Bujumbura appeared to have the upper hand — immediately cracking down on any small gathering and using gunfire and tear gas to break up groups of prospective demonstrators, AFP reporters said.
Residents in two parts of the capital said police accompanied by armed plain-clothes groups — allegedly members of the ruling party’s youth wing that has been branded a militia by the United Nations — conducted raids overnight Wednesday.
It was not immediately clear if there were any casualties from the raids.
UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the Security Council meanwhile backed a call Thursday from regional leaders for the urgent disarming of such youth groups.
Ban urged “the swift implementation of measures to help create the conditions for the holding of peaceful, inclusive and credible elections in Burundi, such as the disarmament of all armed youth groups affiliated with the political parties.”