Written by REUTERS


BUJUMBURA (Reuters) – Opposition parties said on Friday they would boycott Burundi’s elections in protest at the president’s bid for a third term and over concerns voting would not be fair, escalating the African nation’s worst political crisis since a civil war ended in 2005.

Highlighting international worries about a region that has a history of ethnic conflict, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said voting should be postponed because he was “deeply concerned over the prevailing political and security environment”.

A parliamentary election is due to take place on Monday with a presidential vote to follow on July 15. Both have already been pushed back after weeks of protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s announcement in April he would stand again.

Protesters, dozens of whom returned to Bujumbura’s streets on Friday, say another five-year term is unconstitutional. The president cites a court ruling say he is allowed to run.

Dozens of people have been killed in the unrest and the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday almost 127,000 people, more than 1 percent of the population, had fled to neighbouring states, many citing fears about election-related violence.

Announcing an election boycott by the group of 17 opposition parties, Francois Nyamoya, secretary general of the MSD party, told Reuters voting would “not be credible”.

Frederic Bamvuginyumvira said his Frodebu party and other opposition groups opposed the new vote timetable because it was drawn up without consultation, which the government denies.

He repeated calls for the ruling party’s Imbonerakure youth wing to be disarmed, echoing comments from Western and African states. The ruling CNDD-FDD denies the youths have been armed.

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A group of eight Burundi civil society groups called in a statement for “all Burundians to systematically boycott elections prepared by Nkurunziza who wants to impose himself as a leader in violation of republic laws.”

The government has previously dismissed boycott threats, saying the opponents were scared of being defeated at the polls.

The European Union, a major donor, and African neighbours have all voiced worries that the country was not ready to vote.

European foreign ministers said this week they did not expect conditions for a fair vote to be in place in time, such as re-opening private radio stations closed during the unrest.

At talks to defuse the crisis, international mediators proposed a delay in local, parliamentary and presidential polls to July 30, but opposition parties stuck to a demand for a three-month postponement, one opposition politician said.

There was no immediate comment from the government or ruling party, which stayed away from the U.N. and African mediated talks. The CNDD-FDD said this week it needed to focus on campaigning. The government has promised a fair vote.

Protests on the streets of the capital, where most of the rallies were held, have subsided for the past two weeks.

But dozens of protesters blocked roads with makeshift barriers in a restive Bujumbura district on Friday, watched by police, a Reuters witness said.

For six weeks or so after Nkurunziza had said he would stand, there were almost daily clashes between police and demonstrators, mostly in the capital but some outside.

Tensions have also emerged in government. A vice president, Gervais Rufyikiri, said this week he had fled Burundi after he was threatened for denouncing Nkurunziza’s re-election bid, an allegation the government denied.

UNHCR offices in the region “have been noting a steady increase in arrivals of Burundi refugees” as Burundi gears up for voting, the agency’s spokesman Adrian Edwards told a news briefing in Geneva on Friday.

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