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Burundi Ruling Party Chief at Home After Security Scare

The chairman of Burundi's ruling party is at his residence after seeking refuge in the South African embassy because of security concerns. The incident is part of rising tensions in the Great Lakes country. Cathy Majtenyi reports for VOA from Nairobi.

Burundi's government spokesman, Minister of Communications Karenga Ramadhan, tells VOA the chairman of the ruling CNDD-FDD, Hussein Radjabu, is no longer at the South African embassy in the capital Bujumbura.

He explains the circumstances leading up to the incident.

"Yesterday, there was a kind of rumor that was saying that his house might be attacked or something like that," Ramadhan. "But I think it was just a rumor and some people in the government who have been working to clarify that situation. He was, at the beginning, going there (South African embassy) just for having small briefing, an ordinary briefing, as the chairman of the ruling party. But for the time being, he is back to his home."

According to a local radio report, Radjabu's bodyguards were unexpectedly changed while he was at a meeting in the South African embassy. He reportedly said he would stay at the South African embassy until, in his words, the situation is clarified.

The incident began hours after a group of ministers petitioned President Pierre Nkurunziza to step in to address growing rifts within the government.

Joseph Nzeimana is the head of the political party Rally for Democracy and Economic and Social Development. He describes to VOA some of the major issues, including the demand by a majority of party members to remove Radjabu and other officials from positions in the party.

"A lot of people in CNDD-FDD signed the petition asking for a congress to change the staff of the CNDD-FDD party - even the chairman," Nzeimana said.

Communications Minister Ramadhan denies that there is a split within the government, and says Radjabu has agreed to hold a meeting February 24th to address party issues.

Radjabu has been blamed for a number of controversies, including the recent attempt to prosecute former President Domitien Ndayizeye on charges of plotting a coup.

Many Burundians complain that the government, which was formed as part of a peace process to bring an end to more than a decade of civil war, is repressive, authoritarian, and corrupt.

The Rally for Democracy and Economic and Social Development's Nzeimana explains that he thinks employment is often tied to ruling party allegiance and there is no freedom of speech.

"If you are not in the CNDD-FDD, getting employment is very, very difficult," Nzeimana said. "You cannot talk as you want, you cannot do something without thinking that you can go in jail."

Burundi is recovering from a civil war that erupted in 1993 in which 300-thousand people were killed. A peace process that began in 2000 resulted in a series of transitional governments and finally democratically held elections in 2005.