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Burundi opposition figure Zedi Feruzi shot dead

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Crowds gathered outside Feruzi's house, inspecting his body
Crowds gathered outside Feruzi’s house, inspecting his body

The leader of a small Burundian opposition party has been shot dead in the capital Bujumbura, witnesses said, as tensions continue in the country.

The body of Zedi Feruzi, the head of the Union for Peace and Development, was seen lying outside his home.

Burundi has seen weeks of protest against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to run for a third term.

Demonstrators are holding a two-day truce, to allow residents to stock up on supplies and bury the dead.

On Friday, at least two people were killed in a grenade attack in Bujumbura.

The unrest has also seen more than 100,000 people flee to neighbouring countries and a failed coup attempt against Mr Nkurunziza.

Volatile Burundi seeks a new politics

Protesters came on to the streets to voice their opposition to a third term for the president
Protesters came on to the streets to voice their opposition to a third term for the president

“There are politics and politics, different kinds of politics.” So goes the chorus to one of the Burundian protesters’ favourite songs.

They say it was invented on the first day of demonstrations against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office, and quickly spread to various parts of the capital.

“There is a kind of politics that involves killing, and dividing the people: the kind of politics we don’t want anymore. And then there is another kind of politics, the good kind,” one protester explained.

Burundians know a good deal about the politics of dividing and killing.

The country only emerged 10 years ago from an ethnic conflict in which 300,000 people were killed.

The war pitted the majority Hutus against minority Tutsis, with each side appealing to ethnic identity to rally its followers.

The protesters’ song is their paean to a different form of struggle: a struggle for principles, not for power.

“There are Hutus and Tutsis in the movement,” goes one of the song’s verses. “This is not about political parties,” goes another.

Deadly clashes

The protesters say they want to defend their constitution and the Arusha peace agreement, which ended the country’s conflict.

They say both texts bar the president from running again.

The song means: we can fight for democracy, without descending into war.

President Pierre Nkurunziza is seeking a third term which opponents say is unconstitutional
President Pierre Nkurunziza is seeking a third term which opponents say is unconstitutional

But can they, really?

After two weeks of mostly peaceful demonstrations, a military putsch initially celebrated by many protesters quickly led to clashes between rival factions of the army, in which at least nine soldiers died.

Some were killed in a reprisal attack at a hospital.

At least 20 people have died and more than 400 have been arrested during the demonstrations.

More than 100,000 people have fled Burundi since mid-April, fearing that the unrest caused by the president’s bid for office could turn into a civil conflict.

There has been violence from all sides: policemen, soldiers and, perhaps more worryingly, armed civilians both for and against the president’s bid for office.

There are persistent and specific reports suggesting some members of the Imbonerakure, the ruling party’s youth wing, are armed and have carried out attacks in neighbourhoods where there were protests.

Several protesters have been seen with hand grenades.

Volatile situation

The situation is volatile at best and the government has remained uncompromising.

Political leaders have once again found use in stoking ethnic tensions.

Several members of the ruling party have been repeating to whoever will listen that those protesting are “mainly of Tutsi ethnicity”, adding they are “people who want to bring us back to the dark days of war”.

The party’s vice-president accused the popular private radio RPA, ordered to shut by the government, of broadcasting messages of hate, like the infamous Radio Mille Collines during the Rwandan genocide.

There is fear on both sides and rumours are spreading fast.

“They are reshuffling the army, arresting ethnic Tutsi officers,” one protester said, “we are worried about mass killings.”

Some supporters of the president believe an “extermination plan” is being drawn up in neighbouring Kigali, where a Tutsi is president, targeting Burundi’s Hutus.

So far, protesters are still holding the line against the intrusion of ethnic hatred, but the line is fraying.

Clamour for democracy

It’s not only in Burundi that a sitting president is accused of bending the rules to stay in office.

More people have sought shelter at refugee camps outside the country
More people have sought shelter at refugee camps outside the country

Young people across the continent have been raising their voices to ask for rulers to renounce the idea of a lifetime in power.

They say that time is over.

Burundi today is seen as something of a test for Sub-Saharan Africa’s democratic credentials.

As hundreds are still chanting on the streets of the country’s capital, raising their arms in surrender when the security forces approach, the struggle isn’t over.

But in a country so marked by its violent past, achieving a different kind of politics is easier said than done.

Burundi: Key facts

The country is facing its worst turmoil since the 12-year civil war ended in 2005

  • 10.4m population
  • 50 years – life expectancy for a man
  • 2nd poorest country in the world
  • 85% are Hutu, 14% Tutsi
  • 300,000 died in civil war

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