Burundi authorities arrested 157 people during protests spurred by the ruling party’s nomination of President Pierre Nkurunziza as its candidate for June elections, police chief Andre Ndayambaje said.
“We call on families to come and visit them -- they are safe and secure,” Ndayambaje said in a Monday interview in the capital, Bujumbura, referring to those detained. He didn’t give any details on a death toll, which local broadcasters such as Radio Isanganiro have put at five people, and said police are still assessing the impact of the protests.
Opposition parties and civil society leaders have staged demonstrations in the East African country after Nkurunziza’s April 25 nomination by the ruling CNDD-FDD party. Police have used teargas, water cannons and live ammunition against protesters, Human Rights Watch said in a Monday statement, citing rights activists. Demonstrations are continuing for a third day, the British Broadcasting Corp. reported.
Nkurunziza came to power in 2005 after leading a rebel group during the landlocked country’s 12-year civil war. The Arusha Accords, which eventually brought an end to the conflict that killed 300,000 people, stipulated a two-term presidential limit and power-sharing between the country’s ethnic groups. Opponents say Nkurunziza’s attempt to win a third term at the June 26 vote would violate these pacts.
United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence and called on Burundi’s authorities to investigate the reported deaths.
Ban has dispatched his special envoy for the Great Lakes region, Said Djinnit, to consult Nkurunziza and political leaders, according to a statement on Monday from his spokesman. Security services should remain impartial and show restraint in their response to demonstrations, Ban said.
Police arrested Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, a rights activist and outspoken critic of the government, in Bujumbura on Monday, Human Rights Watch said. The 66-year-old, who was detained by authorities for at least three months last year, was “kicked and roughed up,” according to the New York-based group, which cited journalists at the scene.
Authorities have also placed restrictions on local media, banning three popular radio stations from live reporting from demonstrations, and shut down at least one broadcaster, according to Human Rights Watch.
“Government restrictions on communications not only violate basic media freedom but deprive many Burundians of the right to information about events that affect them directly,” the group’s Africa director, Daniel Bekele, said in the statement.
Opposition party leader Leonce Ngendakumana accused the ruling party of deploying Rwandan rebels to suppress demonstrations. “Police uniforms have been given to them in Gatumba,” close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo, where they are based, Ngendakumana said by phone late Monday. Police chief Ndayambaje denied any rebel involvement.
The UN and rights groups such as Amnesty International have warned of increasing politically motivated violence in Burundi over the past year. A July report by London-based Amnesty said that members of the Imbonerakure, the CNDD-FDD’s youth wing, have intimidated and attacked political opponents with impunity, suggesting “serious implications for human rights” before the elections. The ruling party said the report was untrue.
At least 11,850 people have fled to neighboring Rwanda since the start of the month as incidents of violence mount before the elections, the UN said on April 24.