Burundi Opposition Protests Resume as Military Backs Term Limits

Burundian opposition activists resumed their protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s plan to seek a third term in office, as the East African nation’s military said it backs a peace accord that limits leaders to two.

Road blocks were erected on the streets of the capital, Bujumbura, on Monday morning and parents have been urged to keep their children away from school, Pacifique Nininahazwe, a civil society leader, said by phone. The opposition had suspended protests on May 2 to allow Nkurunziza time to change his mind.

“We have started demonstrations early this morning,” Nininahazwe said.

Protests erupted on April 26 after Burundi’s ruling party nominated Nkurunziza to run for president in elections scheduled for June. Opposition groups say his candidacy violates a peace accord signed 15 years ago in Arusha, Tanzania, that stipulates a two-term presidential limit. The country’s senate has asked the Constitutional Court to study the legality of the president’s bid.

The unrest in Burundi is raising fears of a return to conflict if rebel groups abandon the agreements that ended a 12-year civil war in which 300,000 people were killed. It also has the potential to destabilize the Great Lakes region that includes the Democratic Republic of Congo, the world’s biggest source of cobalt and Africa’s top copper producer.

Burundian Defense Minister Major-General Pontien Gaciyubwenge said on May 2 the army will stand by the Arusha agreement and the country’s constitution.

“No politician is allowed to violate the accords,” he told reporters in Bujumbura.

At least five civilians and two police officers have been killed and more than 600 others arrested during the demonstrations, according to Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, a Burundian human rights advocate.

Burundi holds 6 percent of the world’s nickel reserves, according to the African Development Bank. Kermas Group, a London-based investment company, is developing a mine at Musongati in southeastern Burundi, which ranks as one of the 10 largest known deposits of the metal.