Burundian protesters returned to the streets of the capital in defiance of a government ban, maintaining pressure on President Pierre Nkurunziza to abandon his bid to seek a third term.
The East African government has arrested a number of the suspected organizers of a failed coup last week, which was led by Major-General Godefroid Niyombare, fired key ministers and said that demonstrators would be suspected of involvement in the plot. It followed weeks of protests against Nkurunziza to seek a third term in the June 26 elections.
Nkurunziza has rejected calls by the African Union, neighboring Kenya and other groups to postpone the vote so that stability can be restored and he has barred protests in the lead up to it. Opponents argue a 2005 peace accord that ended a civil war specifies a two-term presidential limit. Supporters say Nkurunziza can run for a final mandate because his first term by parliamentary appointment doesn’t count.
The United Nations and groups including Human Rights Watch have warned of the risk of reprisal attacks, especially against journalists and human rights defenders, and possible acts of intimidation in the wake of the takeover attempt.
State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said the U.S. was concerned about reports of retaliation against people involved in the attempted coup and said the potential for violence remains. He called on Burundian officials to treat those charged “in accord with relevant laws,” urged the military to conduct itself professionally and pointed to Nkurunziza as a cause of further instability.
“The president’s decision to announce his candidacy for a third term has and will continue to exacerbate and foment violence in the country,” Rathke said on Monday.
More than 105,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries since last month, including to Tanzania where a refugee camp has recorded two deaths from cholera and the UN Refugee Agency is investigating more suspected cases of the disease in several locations with poor sanitation.
Nkurunziza replaced his defense, international cooperation, and foreign ministers on Monday, said a spokesman in his office, Gervais Abayeho, declining to give a reason for the dismissals.
Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, speaking as chairman of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region at a meeting on Monday, called for dialog and regional cooperation to quell the violence and political instability.
In a speech in Bujumbura on Sunday, his first appearance since the attempted overthrow, Nkurunziza warned of a threat to Burundi from al-Shabaab, the al-Qaeda-linked group the nation’s troops are helping to fight in Somalia, according to a transcript on the presidency’s Facebook page. Bujumbura’s mayor, Saidi Juma, told reporters on Sunday that anyone who demonstrates would be considered “security threats or as belonging to the coup-plotters’ group.”