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Burundi Opposition Leader Says Party Members Attacked in Run-up to Elections

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Burundi’s main opposition leader and presidential candidate Agathon Rwasa says supporters of his CNL party are being arrested, attacked and in some cases killed ahead of the country’s May 20 elections.

“We are experiencing some behaviors which are meant to destabilize mainly the CNL where our people are attacked and there is no judiciary or police prosecution which could be conducted against the perpetrators,” Rwasa said this week in an exclusive interview with VOA News.

According to the CNL, one party member was attacked and two others went missing in Ruyigi province on Thursday.

The party says a local CNL leader in Mwaro province was kidnapped Monday and his body was found floating in a river.

Party members attend the congress of the opposition Congres National pour la Liberte (National Freedom Council) party, in the…
FILE – Party members attend the congress of the opposition Congres National pour la Liberte (National Freedom Council) party, in the capital, Bujumbura, Burundi, Feb. 16, 2020.

Rwasa said his members are being targeted specifically because they are candidates or electoral observers for his party.

“We can say all of this is meant to intimidate the opposition so as to guarantee the victory of the ruling party,” he added.

Campaigning for the presidential and parliamentary elections officially kicked off on April 27 and is expected to last for 21 days as the seven presidential candidates compete for voters’ support.

Confrontations between the opposition members and ruling party’s youth wing, the Imbonerakure, have been reported countrywide during the political rallies, specifically in the provinces of Ngozi, Kirundo, Kayanza, Bujumbura and Gitega.

According to the Burundian government, at least two people were killed in the first week of the campaigns, and 26 were injured.

“We call on all party members to stay away from hate speeches, inciting violence and words that create hatred, because when the political leaders tell these kind of words to their supporters, the next day they implement, as we have witnessed recently,” said Pierre Nkurikiye, spokesman for Burundi’s public security minister.

Earlier this week, one of the CNL legislative candidates, Kathy Kezimana, was arrested by Burundian police and accused of spreading hate speech.

Ruling CNND-FDD party

The ruling CNND-FDD party, led by presidential nominee Evariste Ndayishimiye, is expected to win the elections.

Ndayishimiye is the handpicked successor of President Pierre Nkurunziza, who is stepping aside after 15 years. The president’s controversial decision to seek a third term in 2015 sparked violent protests that killed hundreds of people and prompted hundreds of thousands to flee the country. A 2018 referendum scrapped the previous two-term limit in the constitution.

Burundi Army Gen. Evariste Ndayishimiye, left, is accompanied by current president Pierre Nkurunziza, right, after he was…
FILE – Burundi Army Gen. Evariste Ndayishimiye, left, is accompanied by current president Pierre Nkurunziza after being chosen as the party’s presidential candidate at a conference for the ruling CNDD-FDD party in Gitega, Burundi, Jan. 26, 2020.

For this year’s election, opposition members have raised concern about the Independent Electoral Commission because the members of the commission are allied to the ruling party.

There will be no international observer mission for the vote. The East African Community expressed interest in deploying a mission, but plans never materialized because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Burundian officials have recorded 19 cases of coronavirus and one death.

Most Bujumbura residents prefer not to comment on the current political situation for fear of their own security.

“We pray that the campaigns are conducted well and whoever will lose or win should accept the outcome. For us citizens, the most important thing is peace. We need peace,” said one Bujumbura resident.

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