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Burundi's Catholic Church Withdraws Election Support


Police and army clear barricades set by opposition demonstrators in the Cibitoke district of the capital Bujumbura, in Burundi, May 25, 2015.

Burundi's Catholic Church says it is withdrawing its support of the country's upcoming elections, after weeks of political unrest.

Burundi's Catholic bishops released a statement Thursday saying it is asking its clergy who serve on electoral commissions to step down from those commissions.

On Wednesday, Burundi's government asked Burundians to donate the money needed to hold elections in June, because some foreign donors have threatened to withhold aid if President Pierre Nkurunziza continues with his controversial plan to run for a third term.

Meanwhile, the European Union is suspending its election observer mission in Burundi. An EU statement says the election process has been "marred by restrictions on independent media, excessive use of force against demonstrators, a climate of intimidation for opposition parties and civil society, and a lack of confidence in the election authorities."

The president's decision to seek re-election has sparked weeks of often-violent protests in which more than 20 people have died in clashes between protesters and police. Earlier this month, some of the president's critics staged an unsuccessful coup while he was out of the country.

So far, Nkurunziza has refused to postpone the June 26 presidential election, as his critics, including the Catholic Church, have demanded.

Late last week, the political opposition broke off peace talks after opposition party leader Zedi Feruzi and his bodyguard were killed in a shooting in Bujumbura. A human rights activist, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, told VOA's Central Africa Service that those talks resumed on Thursday.

The United States has condemned the killings and urged Burundian authorities to arrest the perpetrators and protect other politicians, and both the U.S. and the United Nations have urged all parties to return to the talks.

The U.S. has also called for authorities to lift a ban on further protests, allow independent radio stations to resume broadcasting and stop using the term "insurgents" to refer to peaceful protesters.

More than 100,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries to escape the violence between protesters and the police.

The president's critics say a third term would violate the constitution. His supporters say he is eligible to run because parliament, not voters, elected him to his first term in 2005.

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