US denounces 'climate of fear' that marred Burundi referendum

Washington (AFP) –


The United States on Monday denounced the "climate of fear and intimidation" and "lack of transparency" it said marred a vote on constitutional reform in Burundi and questioned the results.

"The May 17 referendum process in Burundi was marred by a lack of transparency, the suspension of media outlets, and attempts to pressure voters," the US State Department said in a statement.

And while "vigorous campaigning by the opposition" was allowed during a designated two-week period, "numerous cases of harassment and repression of referendum opponents in the months preceding the vote contributed to a climate of fear and intimidation," it said.

According to provisional results released on Monday, 73 percent of voters backed constitutional reforms that bolster President Pierre Nkurunziza's power and allow him to seek another two terms in office.

Observers had widely expected the reforms to pass, partly due to support Nkurunziza still holds in rural areas, but also due to a three-year crackdown on dissent, the media and civil society.

Nkurunziza, 54, who has been in power since 2005, plunged his tiny east African nation into crisis in 2015 when he circumvented a constitutional two-term limit, arguing his first term came after an election by parliament.

The move sparked angry protests, a government crackdown, a coup attempt and widespread abuses which prompted the International Criminal Court to launch a probe into the atrocities.

This angered Burundi which became the first country to withdraw from the ICC.

At least 1,200 people have died and 400,000 been displaced, according to the ICC.