EU cuts financial aid to Burundi as political crisis continues

Violence has claimed more than 400 lives and forced more than 240,000 people to flee the country

Police hold a protester in the capital Bujumbura during demonstrations 
(Image credit: LANDRY NSHIMIYE/AFP/Getty Images)

The European Union has suspended direct financial aid to the government in Burundi as the political situation shows little sign of improving.

The small east African nation has been in crisis since last April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would be standing for another term.

His refusal to relinquish power sparked clashes between the public and police, as well as a failed military coup. In total, the violence has claimed around 400 lives and forced more than 240,000 people to flee.

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The United Nations warned last month that "a complete breakdown of law and order is just around the corner" in Burundi. It is currently examining cases of mass killings, gang rapes and enforced disappearances.

Brussels said the decision to cut aid to would not affect the humanitarian assistance being given to the country, which is ranked the hungriest in the world by Unicef.

"The EU is, and will remain, firmly committed to supporting the Burundian people in this crisis," international development commissioner Neven Mimica told Deutsche Welle.

Brussels currently funds about half the country's annual budget, according to The Guardian.

Federica Mogherini, the EU's foreign policy chief, said direct aid would only resume once "concrete measures" were taken by the government.

She added that there were "glimpses of hope" the situation would improve. "The action we are seeking is achievable with will and determination," she said.

The Burundi government played down the impact of the aid withdrawal.

"[It] doesn't mean the government will stop functioning," foreign minister Alain Nyamitwe told Reuters.

"There is a way of living otherwise. The government will continue running," he added.

Burundians head to the polls amid violence and intimidation

29 June

Parliamentary elections currently underway in Burundi have been marred by violent attacks, boycotted by the opposition and condemned by the international community.

The country has been in crisis since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would be standing for another term in April, a move critics argue is unconstitutional.

It triggered weeks of mass protests, culminating in an attempted coup which failed due to divisions in the military. Nkurunziza managed to hold on to power and insists he will not step down.

A grenade attack was launched near a polling station this morning and gunfire and explosions could be heard in the capital Bujumbura overnight, according to Reuters.

The African Union has made the unprecedented decision not send international observers to today's legislative elections, nor to presidential elections later this month, saying it did not believe voting would be free and fair.

The European Union has also withdrawn its observers after calling for the elections to be postponed. Holding a vote "without establishing the minimum requirements to ensure their credibility, transparency and inclusiveness can only exacerbate the deep crisis in Burundi", it said.

However, the country's electoral commission spokesman today insisted that the vote was going smoothly and said international observers could not judge the process before it was completed.

Voter turnout appears to be low – either because of support for the boycott or because people are too afraid to go to polling stations, says The Guardian's David Smith.

At least 70 people have been killed, including a leading opposition member, and hundreds more have been injured in the last two months.

The conflict has also forced more than 127,000 Burundians to flee the country fearing for their lives. They include Pie Ntavyohanyuma, a senior ruling party official and parliamentary speaker who said he was being threatened by the president.

Human rights groups have accused the governing party's youth wing, known as the Imbonerakure, of abuses including intimidation, beatings and unlawful killings.

"Anyone who has really spoken against the third mandate has either left the country or is in hiding," activist Ketty Nivyabandi told the New York Times.

"You very much feel like you are in a war zone," she said. "There is a wave blowing across Africa where a new generation demands greatness. We want excellence. We want leaders who deliver, and we want our laws to be upheld."

Burundi crisis: is the nation on the brink of another civil war?

26 May

Burundi's opposition has suspended peace talks with the ruling party after one of their leaders was murdered, as anti-government protests continue.

Zedi Feruzi, who was critical of the president's bid to seek a third term in power, was gunned down in a drive-by shooting in the capital Bujumbura. "The life of anyone who opposes Pierre Nkurunziza is in danger," opposition figure Agathon Rwasa told The Guardian. "People are being assassinated here and there."

Burundi has been in crisis since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would be standing for another term in power, a move critics argue is unconstitutional and violates a peace deal that helped end the country's bloody civil war in 2006. It triggered weeks of mass protests, culminating in an attempted coup which failed due to divisions in the military. Nkurunziza managed to hold on to power and insists he will not step down.

Dozens have been killed and over 100,000 people have escaped the country since the protests erupted, with thousands more still fleeing to neighbouring Tanzania. The killing of opposition members has forced many into hiding and politicians, journalists and activists who oppose the government have been targeted in a government crackdown on dissent.

President Nkurunziza maintains that he has the support of the majority of Burundians, but protests against the ruling party continue to spread. "As the protests continue here, so does the uncertainty and the risk that Burundi's political crisis could turn into something much uglier," the BBC's Andrew Harding reports.

Nic Cheeseman, a specialist in sub-Saharan politics at Oxford University, shares similar concerns. Writing in Kenya's Nation newspaper, he warned that "the memory of civil war and how to mount effective rebellions against the state is still fresh. This combination is a recipe for political disorder and, worse, a resumption of civil conflict."

Burundi crisis: coup over as president returns to the country

15 May

The leader of an attempted coup in Burundi is on the run and other senior army figures have been arrested after troops loyal to President Pierre Nkurunziza overpowered a rebel faction that had tried to depose him.

The president has returned to the country and is expected to address the nation shortly. "President Pierre Nkurunziza is now in Burundi," an aide told AFP. "That's all we can say for the now because of security reasons."

Army general Godefroid Niyombare attempted to overthrow the president while he was out of the country attending crisis talks in Tanzania, following weeks of violent protests against his bid to extend power.

But Niyombare has now admitted defeat and is said to be on the run. "We have decided to surrender," the general said. "I hope they won't kill us."

Fierce fighting erupted in the capital Bujumbura yesterday as rival groups battled for control of the city, leaving at least five soldiers dead.

"We were faced with an overpowering military determination to support the system in power," conceded deputy coup leader General Cyrille Ndayirukiye, one of the men arrested.

The president's office said that only a small section of the army joined the rebellion and denied a division in the militarys, the BBC reports.

Army chief of staff General Prime Niyongabo said renegade soldiers had been given the opportunity to rejoin the army to "avoid a blood bath", but had continued with their attack on state owned buildings in the city.

However, he said the coup had been put down. "We are in control of all strategic points in the country," he said. "Burundi is a democratic nation. The army does not interfere in politics. We are obliged to follow the constitution."

Nkurunziza has confirmed that next month's elections will be held as planned and that he will be standing for a third term, a decision that is likely to trigger to further protests.

"The president is in a good mood, he doesn't see any problem at all," his spokesperson said. "He's been elected by the people, he's going to run again."

Burundi crisis: coup underway after president 'ousted'

14 May

An attempted coup is underway in Burundi, as rival troops fight for control of state buildings in the capital Bujumbura.

A senior army general yesterday announced that President Pierre Nkurunziza had been ousted, following weeks of violent protests in response to his attempt to extend his term as leader.

"President Pierre Nkurunziza has been relieved of his duties," said Major General Godefroid Niyombare, the leader's former ally. "The government is overthrown."

The announcement was made while the president was in Tanzania, at an emergency summit called to discuss the situation in Burundi. Nkurunziza has since been prevented from returning to the country after anti-government troops seized the airport.

What triggered the crisis?

President Nkurunziza's decision last month to stand for a third term sparked weeks of protests, which have left at least 20 people dead and forced tens of thousands to flee. Demonstrators argued that his decision to seek five more years in power violated a two-term limit in the constitution, but a court upheld his decision.

The ruling triggered further clashes between the public and police, as well as government-aligned youth groups. Police responded by firing live rounds into the crowds and using tear gas in an attempt to disperse protesters. The use of excessive use of force against protesters drew worldwide condemnation earlier this week, reports The Guardian.

What has happened since?

Niyombare, who was fired by Nkurunziza as intelligence chief earlier this year for allegedly advising the president not to seek a third term, made the coup announcement at an army barracks beside several other senior army and police officers. Yesterday, soldiers surrounded the state broadcaster while thousands of Burundians took to the streets of the capital to celebrate the announcement. Clashes between troops loyal to the president and soldiers involved in the attempted coup erupted overnight, with both sides exchanging heavy weapons fire, Agence France-Presse reports.

There are conflicting reports over which army faction is in control of the city. The army chief of staff General Prime Niyongabo insists the coup has been halted and all state-owned building are in the hands of loyalists, but coup leaders say they are in control of "virtually the entire city" of Bujumbura. "The soldiers who are being deployed are on our side," coup spokesman Venon Ndabaneze told AFP.There has been fierce fighting between rival factions within the army outside the state broadcaster. "Control of the national broadcaster is key because it is the only outlet still broadcasting outside the capital," says the BBC's Maud Jullien.

Nkurunziza has appealed for calm, insisting that the situation is "under control", yet his whereabouts remain unknown. He is believed to be stuck in Tanzania, unable to return home to his presidential palace. Commentators were quick to question why Nkurunziza chose to travel abroad during the mounting unrest. "There's an unwritten, but well-known rule of strong-man autocratic leadership that you never leave town when your people are out in the streets calling for you to step down," says Quartz.

What happens next?

The general has promised to work with civil society groups, religious leaders and politicians to form a transitional government as soon as possible, the BBC reports. He said that he had established a "national salvation committee" made up of army and police generals and that its mission is the "restoration of national unity and the resumption of the electoral process in a peaceful and fair environment". However, it remains unclear whether Niyombare can command the loyalty of the entire army.

If he can, there is chance the political situation could be resolved without further bloodshed, reports the Washington Post. If the army continues to act in the interest of the population, it "could stem the immediate violence of the past few weeks and carve out a space for democratic transition in Burundi."

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