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Burundi President Nkurunziza Briefed on Al-Shabab Threats

President Pierre Nkurunziza makes a brief statement at the presidential palace in Bujumbura, Burundi, May 17, 2015.
President Pierre Nkurunziza makes a brief statement at the presidential palace in Bujumbura, Burundi, May 17, 2015.

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza was briefed by security officials on Sunday in his office in the capital, Bujumbura, about possible security threats posed by the Somali-based Islamist terrorist group, al-Shabab, says presidential spokesman Willy Nyamitwe.

He says the president and his advisers discussed ways to protect civilians after the terrorist group threatened to attack Burundi and neighboring Uganda.

Burundi has contributed more than 5,000 troops to Somalia as part of an African Union Mission (AMISOM) to fight the al-Shabab militants.

This was Mr. Nkurunziza's first public appearance following an attempt to overthrow his government while he was away to attend an East African heads of state summit in Tanzania aimed at finding solutions to the country's political crisis.

"There is a real threat coming from al-Shabab, but the government is taking these threats seriously," said Nyamitwe. "The president was obliged to come on a Sunday [to] his office because he is seeking a solution, [and] the kind of response the government is to bring in in order to protect the country and the citizens."

The threat comes as opposition demonstrators continue to protest President Nkurunziza's re-election bid. They accuse the president of seeking a third term, which they say is against the constitution.

The ruling CNDD-FDD recently chose Nkurunziza to represent the party in the June presidential vote. His candidacy was also confirmed by a constitutional court, which led to weeks of demonstrations by opposition groups.

The president and his supporters insist his candidacy for a third term is legal because he was chosen by lawmakers, not a general election, for his first five-year term in 2005. Nyamitwe says the accusations against Nkurunziza are unjustified.

"You know he is a candidate from the ruling party not [representing himself], and the party has a right to appoint who it wants as long as the constitution is respected. So, he remains the candidate of the ruling party and he is going to campaign [ahead] of the presidential [election in] June 2015. This is a decision from the ruling party and this has to be respected if we are in a democratic country," said Nyamitwe.

Several international organizations, including the African Union, have called for dialogue and a postponement of the election until the crisis is resolved.

Nyamitwe says the government is not against a postponement of the election to ensure a peaceful poll. However, he says the government in Bujumbura will not interfere in the activities of the Independent Electoral Commission to administer the election.

"It is the electoral commission that has to check to see if the situation in Burundi is conducive for elections, because we need (a) peaceful election. But, we will let this electoral commission (decide) what is going to be the way forward," said Nyamitwe.

"We cannot as a government decide by ourselves as long as we have an electoral commission. So we are waiting on the electoral commission to respond to the request from the region, the request from the African Union and other partners."

Nyamitwe says some of the masterminds of the attempt to overthrow the Nkurunziza administration are on the run, while those apprehended are in the process of facing the full rigors of the law.

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