Burundi Opposition Defiant as President Claims Terror Threat

Updated on
Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza
Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza gestures at the President's office in Bujumbura on May 17 as he made his first official appearance since an attempted coup against him this week. Photographer:Carl De Souza/AFP/Getty Images

Burundi’s opposition resumed protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term, shrugging off a warning from the head of state about the threat of attacks from Somalia-based Islamist militants.

Demonstrators took to the streets of the East African nation’s capital, Bujumbura, again on Monday even as soldiers guarded the streets, opposition lawmaker Charles Niyungeko said by phone. The protests follow a failed coup by members of Burundi’s army last week in which some of the plotters were arrested.

Nkurunziza spoke in Bujumbura on Sunday, his first appearance since the attempted overthrow, warning 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 official Facebook page. He replaced his foreign and defense ministers on Monday, according to the presidency’s Twitter account.

Fearing wider upheaval, more than 105,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries since the unrest began last month. At least 20 people were killed in demonstrations in Bujumbura since Nkurunziza’s ruling CNDD-FDD party nominated him as its candidate in presidential elections scheduled for June 26, a month after a parliamentary vote.

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.”

Attack Warning

Uganda’s police said last week that al-Shabaab had warned of planned attacks in Uganda and Burundi. Niyungeko dismissed the claim of the Islamist threat, saying it was an attempt by Nkurunziza to silence opposition to his election bid.

Burundi, about the size of Belgium, has a $2.7 billion economy and is home to 10.2 million people. It’s the continent’s seventh-biggest coffee exporter and buyers of its beans include Starbucks Corp. The country also holds 6 percent of the world’s nickel reserves, according to the African Development Bank.

The U.S. has helped its nationals, Canadians and other foreign citizens to evacuate Burundi, Agence France-Presse reported, citing the State Department. Angolan President Jose Eduardo dos Santos on Monday called for rapid dialogue on the crisis and said planned elections should be carried out in an orderly and transparent manner. He was speaking at a meeting of the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region in the Angolan capital, Luanda.

Burundi’s political crisis is credit negative, Moody’s Investors Service said Monday in an outlook note. The situation “threatens to disrupt economic activity and administrative stability and weaken the political will and capacity to implement much-needed structural reform,” it said.

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