Fear casts shadow over Bu­rundi vote on extending pres­i­dent's rule

Daily Nation Newspaper - - HEALTH NEWS -

BUJUMBURA - Burundians stood in long lines on Thurs­day to vote in a ref­er­en­dum that could let Pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza stay in power to 2034, deep­en­ing fears of po­lit­i­cal re­pres­sion and eth­nic con­flict in the heart of Africa’s Great Lakes.

Nearly half a mil­lion peo­ple have fled since Nku­run­z­iza, a 54-year-old for­mer sports teacher and eth­nic Hutu guer­rilla leader, ini­tially pro­longed his decade in charge by run­ning for a dis­puted third term in 2015.

He first came to power in 2005 at the end of a long civil war in which 300,000 died.

The land­locked East African coun­try has broadly the same eth­nic make-up as neigh­bor­ing Rwanda, where 800,000 Tut­sis and mod­er­ate Hu­tus were slaugh­tered by Hutu ex­trem­ists in a 1994 geno­cide.

The ref­er­en­dum asks vot­ers to say “yes” or “no” to con­sti­tu­tional amend­ments that would al­low Nku­run­z­iza to seek two more seven-year terms be­gin­ning in 2020.

Nku­run­z­iza, a fit­ness and football en­thu­si­ast, ex­pressed hap­pi­ness at the turnout, urg­ing vot­ers to go to the polls early so the re­sult could be de­clared early. “We take this op­por­tu­nity to call on all peo­ple of vot­ing age to do their civic duty and present them­selves at polling sta­tions as soon as pos­si­ble, so that this ex­er­cise can be con­cluded,” he told reporters af­ter cast­ing his bal­lot in his home vil­lage of Ngozi.

Ar­moured ve­hi­cles and police pa­trolled neigh­bor­hoods of the cap­i­tal, Bujumbura, on Wed­nes­day evening. Most peo­ple ques­tioned by Reuters said they did not un­der­stand the con­sti­tu­tional changes and were only vot­ing out of fear.

A 50-year-old man, who did not want to be iden­ti­fied to avoid be­ing tar­geted for ret­ri­bu­tion, said turnout was high “not be­cause of good will but be­cause of fear”.

“There has been in­tim­i­da­tion - who­ever doesn’t go to vote is go­ing against the govern­ment’s will,” the man said. - REUTERS

Pres­i­dent Pierre Nku­run­z­iza

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