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Burundi govt halts talks with opposition ahead of vote


Talks between Burundi's government and opposition aimed at resolving a major crisis over President Pierre Nkurunziza's controversial re-election bid were suspended on Sunday less than 48 hours before the central African nation goes to the polls.


The breakdown in the negotiations came after Burundi's government failed to turn up, said Ugandan defence minister and mediator Crispus Kiyonga. Earlier, the government said it wanted a pause and signalled it could abandon the process altogether.

Presidential elections are due to be held on Tuesday, with tensions still high over Nkurunziza bid to stay in power for a third consecutive five-year term despite a constitutional two-term limit.

Opposition groups say another term would also violate a peace deal that paved the way to end a dozen years of civil war in 2006, and there are fears the crisis could plunge Burundi -- which has a history of ethnic and political violence -- back into war and add another major crisis to the already unstable Great Lakes region.

"Today, we have adjourned sine die, because yesterday we agreed that we will all be here by nine o'clock in the morning. We have been waiting, we have been making calls and we have not seen anyone from government," said Kiyonga.

"Since dialogue takes two parties the absence means we have to hold until the government is ready to continue the dialogue. The dialogue is not over... we have to be patient, we give the benefit of the doubt to the government."

Although Kiyonga asserted some progress had been made and that there was still a chance to bring the government back to the table, a source from the five-nation East African Community (EAC) -- which designated Uganda as the main mediator -- said the process now appeared to be "dead".

"The security situation could degenerate at any moment," the source warned.

Government accused of bad faith

Burundi's crisis has already seen nearly three months of street protests, which have been met by a tough government crackdown that has left at least 100 dead and pushed more than 150,000 people to flee the country.

In mid-May, rebel generals also attempted to overthrow Nkurunziza in a coup, although this failed and they have since launched a rebellion in the north of the country.

The talks were marked by tensions on Saturday, with the government side accusing the opposition of siding with the generals who led the failed coup. It cited an opposition statement calling for the creation of a common anti-Nkurunziza front that would also include Burundian exiles.

The opposition has in turn accused the government of being unwilling to negotiate.

Kiyonga told reporters that some progress had been made on issues including security and the return of refugees, although the opposition has complained the fundamental issue behind the crisis -- Nkurunziza's candidacy -- is unresolved and accused the government of just trying to but time before the polls.

"Since the beginning they have been looking to stitch up the elections while at the same time give the appearance of negotiating. But the mask is now off," said Innocent Muhozi, a leading civil society campaigner.

Three out of the eight presidential candidates have already pulled out of the race, leaving Nkurunziza on track for a near-certain victory. Nkurunziza's main opponent, Agathon Rwasa, is still officially a candidate, but he says this is "purely technical" and that he will not recognise the outcome.

Nkurunziza's ruling CNDD-FDD party scored a widely-expected landslide win in parliamentary polls held on May 29, but these were boycotted by the opposition and condemned internationally as neither free nor fair.

The country has been left without most of its independent media outlets, after several radio stations were attacked and destroyed in fighting during the attempted coup.


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