Burundi opposition and civil society boycott elections

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Burundi opposition announces election boycott

Bujumbura (Burundi) (AFP) - Burundi's opposition parties announced plans Friday to boycott upcoming elections, saying it was not possible to hold a fair vote following weeks of violence over President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid to stay in power.

Civil society groups backed the move in a joint statement calling on voters to skip the "sham elections" and urging the international community "not to recognise the validity" of the polls.

"Thousands of Burundians have fled the country, a thousand peaceful demonstrators were arrested, tortured, and are currently languishing in jail," the statement said.

The central African nation was plunged into turmoil in late April when Nkurunziza launched his drive for a third consecutive five-year term.

"All the opposition have unanimously decided to boycott the elections," said Charles Nditije, a key opposition leader, after a letter signed by representatives of all the political opposition was handed to the election commission.

Opposition groups say they will boycott both parliamentary elections, due to be held on Monday, and the presidential vote on July 15.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called on Friday for the polls to be delayed, although similar calls have been dismissed by the government.

In a statement Ban said Burundi needed a delay to create "a conducive environment for inclusive, peaceful and transparent elections."

Analysts said the ruling party appeared intent on pressing ahead with the elections, despite the country being mired in its worst crisis since the end of the 1993-2006 war.

Many fear a repeat of that violence, which split the country along ethnic lines, pitting the majority Hutus against the minority Tutsis.

Around 70 people have been killed in weeks of street protests that have been brutally suppressed, triggering an exodus of around 127,000 into neighbouring countries.

Opponents say Nkurunziza's third-term bid is unconstitutional and a violation of a peace deal that ended 13 years of civil war in 2006.

The opposition letter, which criticises the timetable set by the election commission, says the groups will not take part in polls until conditions for "peaceful, transparent and inclusive" elections are met.

The ruling CNDD-FDD's youth wing, the fearsome Imbonerakure whose name means "The Watchmen" or, literally, "Those Who See Far", have been accused by the UN of being a militia force that has carried out a string of attacks.

- Top officials flee -

Several top officials -- including the deputy vice-president as well as members of the election commission and constitutional court -- have fled the poverty-stricken and landlocked country.

In a letter addressed to Nkurunziza, second vice president Gervais Rufyikiri on Thursday urged the president to "put the interests of the Burundian people before your personal interests."

"Withdraw your presidential bid, because it violates the constitution," he wrote after fleeing the country.

The opposition's conditions for fair elections include "disarmament of the Imbonerakure militia, the security of the electoral process and political leaders and society, and the reopening of the independent media, the return of refugees," Nditije's letter read.

Several journalists covering Burundi's crisis, which has seen weeks of street demonstrations, a violent police crackdown and a failed coup attempt by a section of the army, have complained of being subjected to threats -- including death threats -- by members of the police or other branches of the security forces.

Some 200 students on Thursday sought refuge from the police at the US embassy.

Also on Thursday, diplomats said international mediators had again called for a poll delay, suggesting that all the elections be held on July 31, arguing that this would give both sides more time to resolve the crisis before Nkurunziza's current mandate expires on August 26.