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Burundian Catholic Church Issues Ultimatum on Crisis

FILE - President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi addresses the 66th session of the United Nations General Assembly.

The powerful Roman Catholic Church in Burundi has given President Pierre Nkurunziza until Sunday, May 17 to postpone the June 26 election and allow independent radio and television stations to resume broadcasting or it will ask church members on the electoral commission to leave.

Burundi’s independent media said it has been severely affected by the ongoing political unrest in the country, sparked by President Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term.

This comes as leaders of the five-nation East African Community are meeting Wednesday in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania on the Burundi crisis.

Meanwhile, there were more violent protests Tuesday resulting in the death of a protester.

Innocent Muhozi, general manager of the Renaissance radio and television network in Burundi, said the protesters want the East African leaders to tell President Nkurunziza to abandon his third term bid because it is prohibited under the Arusha Accord.

“Our constitution is from the Arusha Peace Agreement, and this Arusha Peace Agreement is saying that no one will be able to rule this country for more than 10 years,” he said.

Nkurunziza, who has been in power since 2005, has said that his first presidential term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people.

“It’s not about the way the president was elected; it’s about the number of years he has served as head of state of the country,” Muhozi said.

President Nkurunziza Monday rejected an appeal from the European Union and the United States to delay the June 26 presidential election, telling the BBC that postponing the vote would worsen the situation.

“For any person that has his head clear, it’s obvious that the vote should be delayed because today you cannot even go to an office or in a store in Bujumbura and the president yesterday began campaigning in the countryside while he knows that all the communities in Bujumbura are locked up by the police and the army,” Muhozi said.

Muhozi said the Catholic Church in Burundi late Tuesday gave President Nkurunziza until May 17 to delay the June 26 independent radio and allow radio stations to resume broadcasting or it will ask church members on the electoral commission to leave

“Just now, the Catholic Church just said that it’s impossible to continue the electoral process without letting the media do their work; the president must free the radio let them be on the air again and postpone the election. They said that the 17th of this month member the Catholic Church will ask its members who are on the independent electoral commission to leave,” Muhozi said.

Muhozi said the progress Burundian media made over the past decade in terms of press freedom has been rolled back since the start of the current crisis.

He said since the protests began, the government has gone after mainly the independent media, completely shutting down a popular radio station.

Two other popular independent radio stations, including Bonesha, remain partially shut down because they can only broadcast in the capital, Bujumbura after authorities ordered their transmitters switched off.

“We are free to cover the protests even though some people closed to the ruling party are beating some of our crews; they are trying to take our equipment; today five journalists escaped being killed by the young people of the ruling party; they took their equipment and threw stones at them,” Muhozi said.

Muhozi said the government also cut the land telephone lines of independent radio stations and ordered some Internet companies to switch off the mobile phones of some independent radio stations.

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