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Burundi election violence ‘likely to escalate’

Carl De Souza, AFP | Women walk past a burning barricade in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura on July 21, 2015

As voting got under way in Burundi’s presidential election on Tuesday, FRANCE 24 spoke to Thierry Vircoulon, project director for Central Africa at the International Crisis Group, who warned that the country was headed for further violence.

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At least two people were killed overnight in the capital Bujumbura, where blasts and gunfire could be heard early on Tuesday as voters queued to cast their ballot.

President Pierre Nkurunziza is widely expected to win re-election in the vote, which has been boycotted by the opposition and condemned by the international community.

Nkurunziza’s decision to stand for a third term in office – which his opponents say violates the constitution – has plunged the country into the worst crisis it has seen since the end of its civil war in 2005.

Vircoulon says the situation is likely to escalate.

FRANCE 24: Are there fears that the violence in Burundi will get worse?

Thierry Vircoulon: The elections show that Burundi is on the path of violence. All the mediation initiatives over the last two months have failed in Burundi, including the last one by the East African community. Those mediation initiatives [were] intended basically to delay the elections and secure enough time to improve the political insecurity climate in the country. The Burundian government rejected those initiatives and actually just accepted a cosmetic delay of those elections… So far what we have seen is low-intensity violence in Burundi, but this is going to step up, that’s for sure.

What can we expect after the election?

We’ve seen that two weeks ago there was a clash between an armed group and the army, and according to military sources, about 30 people – 30 rebels – were killed. So this kind of incident is going to happen more in the coming weeks... We have now more than 160,000 Burundian refugees in the region. So that’s quite a large number of people that can be recruited to armed groups and for an armed rebellion. So this is basically what is ahead of us, the constitution of armed groups and the multiplication of clashes between security forces and those armed groups, because the opposition is now abroad and considering that, of course, after the re-election of President Nkurunziza, there is nothing left to negotiate.

If Nkurunziza wins, as expected, will there be an uprising against his leadership?

There’s going to be an armed resistance to his leadership. Already some opponents who are abroad have decided to create a transitional council. They are organising themselves, there are more and more defections of high-ranking officials. The president of the National Assembly has left, the second vice president has also left and there are other important people from the regime who have also left. So the challenge is going to come from the opposition, but also from the people from the ruling party who have fled office. And I think that the very agitated night last night in Burundi is also a clear sign that this election is also not accepted by all Burundians.

 

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