NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Burundi’s government should postpone parliamentary and presidential elections for a six weeks because of unrest triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office, an emergency meeting for the heads of state from the regional East African Community urged Sunday.
Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, has been rocked by protests for the last five weeks since Nkurunziza’s candidature was announced.
Heads of states from Tanzania, Uganda and Kenya attended the summit in the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam, a statement from the office of East African Community chairman, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta’s said. South African President Jacob Zuma also attended. The regional leaders called on Burundi’s government to use the time before the delayed elections to create an environment conducive for the polls, the statement said.
The statement said Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza was represented by Foreign Affairs Minister Alain Nyamitwe while Rwanda was represented by its East African Community minister Valentine Rugwabiza.
Burundi’s parliamentary elections are scheduled for June 5 while presidential elections are slated for June 26. At least 20 people have died and 471 injured in the weeks of protests as police and demonstrators engage in running battles. Burundi police have been accused of shooting protesters while the ruling party youth wing has been linked to threats and intimidation of those who oppose Nkurunziza.
The East African Community also called for the immediate disarmament of all youth groups affiliated with political groups and asked Burundi’s leadership to exercise restraint and to ensure the right environment for refugees to return home. More than 90,000 people have fled ahead of polls.
Burundi’s protests boiled over on May 13 when an army general announced a coup while the president was in Tanzania attending a meeting of heads of states to discuss the crisis.
Nkurunziza’s opponents say his candidacy is violating the constitution which limits a president to two five-year terms. Nkurunziza maintains that he is eligible to run for a third term because he was elected by parliament for his first term and not by popular vote.