Burundi govt open to postponing vote

The electoral commission will look into the request and advise its decision.

FILE: A protester opposed to the Burundian president’s third term throws a rock at members of the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling party, armed with sticks in the Kinama neighborhood of Bujumbura on May 25, 2015. Picture: AFP.

BUJUMBURA - Burundi's government on Monday held out the possibility of a postponement of elections which have led to weeks of protests and bloodshed.

President Pierre Nkurunziza said in April he would run for another term in a 26 June vote.

More than 20 people have been killed by security forces in protests decrying his move as a violation of the constitution.

Parliamentary and local council elections are also slated for 5 June.

A summit of leaders of the East African Community, comprising Rwanda, Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, and South Africa's President Jacob Zuma on Sunday called for postponement of the elections for at least a month and a half.

Presidential spokesman Gervais Abayeho said the electoral commission was looking into the request and would advise the government.

"They will make a proposal to the government to see if it is possible to make some adjustments on the calendar. But the government is receptive of the proposal made by the summit," he said.

"We believe any reshuffle of the calendar will be anytime soon. I think there will be some slight reshuffle. They are going to come up with a proposal to the government in the coming hours or tomorrow."

Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term unleashed Burundi's worst political crisis since an ethnically-driven civil war ended in 2005. The president's supporters say a constitutional court ruling allows him to run again.

More than 90,000 Burundians have fled the country, according to new figures from the UN's refugee agency UNHCR.

GĂ©lase Ndabirabe, spokesman for the ruling CNDD-FDD party, said it also supported the postponement.

"We are ready to invite all partners in the issue to put effort, stop protests, for what they called protests have cost many lives," he said on national radio.

Last week, the European Union and the Catholic Church pulled out from observing the elections, saying the vote cannot be fair because of daily unrest and a crackdown on media.

The opposition had also called for the elections to be postponed.

Leading opposition figure, Agathon Rwasa, said the proposed postponement should be used to create a conducive environment.

"Burundians, the government, civil society, opposition should seat together and put in place acceptable conditions for a democratic election," he told a news conference.