News / Africa

Political Tensions in Burundi Simmer After Crackdown on Opposition

FILE - A  woman walking towards a voting booth in Bujumbura, Burundi, as people prepared to vote in a presidential election, June 28, 2010.
FILE - A woman walking towards a voting booth in Bujumbura, Burundi, as people prepared to vote in a presidential election, June 28, 2010.
Gabe Joselow
— Members of a recently-suspended political party in Burundi could receive life sentences for a political protest that turned violent earlier this month.  The case highlights growing political tensions in the country ahead of next year's presidential election.

On March 8, demonstrators from the opposition Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD) took to the streets of Burundi's capital, Bujumbura, to protest against what they saw as the government's restrictions on political freedoms.

They were met by riot police who fired tear gas to break up the protest.  More than a dozen opposition members were injured during clashes that followed, while two policemen were briefly held hostage at MSD headquarters.

Now, the party has been suspended for four months and 46 party members are on trial, facing the possibility of life in prison on charges of insurrection, violence against police and rebellion.  Another 22 are facing lesser charges.

The president of the Forum for Strengthening Civil Society in Burundi, Vital Nshimirimana, says the March 8 crackdown was politically guided.

“The police showed that it is not neutral.  It is not neutral in the sense that it is kind of led by some part of the ruling party,” he said.

Presidential adviser Gervais Abayehu denies there is any deliberate crackdown on the opposition. He tells VOA the protesters violated an order by the interior minister that banned political rallies on that particular day, which coincided with a public celebration of International Women's Day.

“Things in this country are such that if you do not go by the law, if you do not respect what the interior minister is saying or the government is saying, it does not matter if you are in the opposition or whether you are in the ruling party, you have to face the full force of the law," he said.

The recent violence has grabbed the attention of the international community.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon issued a statement after the clashes urging both sides to show restraint, while deploring the “growing restrictions on the freedom of expression, association and assembly" in Burundi.

The U.S. State Department condemned the government's use of “heavy-handed tactics” to break up the rally.

Abayehu says the overall political atmosphere is not as bad as it is made out to be, noting that the government has set up forums to discuss issues of concern among political parties.

He says the international community should not rely on information it gets from the opposition.

“If the international community rely on what is really the reality in the country, I think there is no reason, there is no cause for concern in the country.  We see the country being stable, being peaceful,” he said.

Some activists believe the government is intentionally stifling the opposition in order to place the ruling party in a stronger position ahead of next year's presidential and parliamentary elections.

The opposition boycotted the last vote in 2010 because of concerns of vote-rigging, giving an easy victory to President Pierre Nkurunziza.

Jean Claude Nkundwa, a Burundian peace activist living in the United States, has concerns about the next vote, given the current political conditions.

“There is a need of support of this election process which is coming to ensure it is fair and transparent.  And it will not be fair and transparent if the democratic principles are not respected,” he said.

Nkundwa is a survivor of the ethnic conflict that took place in Burundi more than 20 years ago, along the same Hutu-Tutsi lines as the genocide in neighboring Rwanda.

Since then, political reforms helped promote reconciliation in the country.  But now, Nkundwa says he fears Burundi is sliding backwards.

“It's getting dangerous because the frustration has always been the cause of war.  If people feel the needs of justice are not met, people try to express themselves and they crackdown, then in the end there is [an] explosion,” he said.

Civil society groups are also concerned about constitutional changes proposed by the ruling party that would reduce the powers of the vice president, among other changes to the existing balance of power.

Activists have accused the ruling party of trying to change the laws to allow a third term for President Nkurunziza.  The government, strongly denies the allegation and says the proposed changes will put the country more in line with the political systems of its East African neighbors.

You May Like

Lebanese Media Unite to Support Palestinians in Gaza

Joint newscast billed as Arab world’s first unified news bulletin in support of Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip More

Photogallery Australian PM Alleges ‘Coverup’ at MH17 Crash Site

Meanwhile, Russia's ambassador to Malaysia denies plane's black boxes were opened before they were handed over to Malaysian officials More

Despite Advances in AIDS Treatment, Stigma Lingers

Leading immunologist tells VOA that stigma is often what prevents those infected with disease from seeking treatment More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Formi
X
July 22, 2014 10:26 AM
Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video IAEA: Iran Turns its Enriched Uranium Into Less Harmful Form

Iran has converted its stockpiles of enriched uranium into a less dangerous form that is more difficult to use for nuclear weapons, according to the United Nations’ Atomic Energy Agency. The move complies with an interim deal reached with Western powers on Iran's nuclear program last year, in exchange for easing of sanctions. Henry Ridgwell reports for VOA from London.
Video

Video Relic of Saint Draws Catholics Worried About Immigration Issue

A Roman Catholic saint who is a figure of devotion for those crossing the border into the United States is attracting believers concerned about the plight of undocumented immigrants. Mike O'Sullivan reports from Los Angeles, where a relic of Saint Toribio has drawn thousands to local churches.
Video

Video Ukraine Rebels Surrender MH17 Black Boxes

After days of negotiations, a senior separatist leader handed over two black boxes from an airliner downed over eastern Ukraine to Malaysian experts early Tuesday. While on Monday, the U.N. Security Council unanimously demanded that armed groups controlling the crash site allow safe and unrestricted access to the wreckage.
Video

Video In Cambodia, HIV Diagnosis Brings Deadly Shame

Although HIV/AIDS is now a treatable condition, a positive diagnosis is still a life altering experience. In Cambodia, people living with HIV are often disowned by friends, family and the community. This humiliation can be unbearable. We bring you one Cambodian woman’s struggle to overcome a life tragedy and her own HIV positive diagnosis.
Video

Video Nature of Space Exploration Enters New Age

Forty-five years ago this month, the first humans walked on the moon. It was during an era of the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. World politics have changed since then and -- as Elizabeth Lee reports -- so has the nature of space exploration.
Video

Video Chicago’s Argonne Lab Developing Battery of the Future

In 2012, the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science awarded a $120 million grant to a new technology center focused on battery development - headquartered at Argonne National Laboratory in suburban Chicago, Illinois. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, there scientists are making the next technological breakthroughs in energy storage.
Video

Video In NW Pakistan, Army Offensive Causes Massive Number of Displaced

Pakistan’s army offensive in North Waziristan has resulted in the large-scale displacement of the local population. VOA's Ayaz Gul reports from northwest Pakistan where authorities say around 80 percent of the estimated 1 million internally displaced persons [IDPs] have settled in Bannu district, while much of the remaining 20 percent are scattered in nearby cities.
Video

Video Kurdish Peshmerga Force Secures Kirkuk, Its Oil

The Kurdistan regional government has sent its Peshmerga troops into the adjacent province of Kirkuk to drive out insurgents, and to secure the area's rich oil fields. By doing this, the regional government has added a fourth province to the three it officially controls. The oil also provides revenue that could make an independent Kurdistan economically strong. VOA’s Jeffrey Young went out with the Peshmerga and filed this report.
Video

Video Malaysia Reeling: Second Air Disaster in Four Months

Malaysia is reeling from the second air disaster in four months involving the country’s flag carrier. Flight 340 vanished in March and despite an extensive search, no debris has been found. And on Thursday, Flight 17, likely hit by a surface-to-air missile, came apart over eastern Ukraine. The two incidents together have left more than 500 people dead. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from Kuala Lumpur.

AppleAndroid