Burundi 'ready' for controversial vote despite unrest

Burundi says all ready for controversial vote
Burundi says all ready for controversial vote

Bujumbura (Burundi) (AFP) - Burundi's national electoral commission dismissed weeks of violence Sunday and said all was ready a day ahead of key polls in the central African nation that the UN warns should be postponed.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon has called for the elections due Monday to be delayed after the opposition said they would not take part, as Burundi faces its worst crisis since its civil war ended nine years ago.

"Everything is ready in the country," election commission chief Pierre-Claver Ndayicariye told reporters Sunday, saying all voting material had been delivered to voting centres, with over 11,000 polling stations across the country.

Three people were killed overnight Saturday, adding to the more than 70 killed in weeks of violence and a failed coup sparked by President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid to stay in power for a third term.

One was shot while another was killed in a grenade blast, according to witnesses. A soldier was killed by accident by a comrade during a raid on a house.

The opposition on Friday said it was boycotting the polls, claiming it is not possible to hold a fair vote, with over 127,000 people having fled into neighbouring countries, fearing further violence.

Parliamentary and local elections are set to be held on Monday, and a presidential vote on July 15.

- Boycott 'another way of doing politics' -

Opponents say his bid for another term is unconstitutional and violates a peace accord that paved the way to end 13 years of civil war in 2006.

"All the opposition have unanimously decided to boycott the elections," said Charles Nditije, a key opposition leader, in a letter signed by all the country's opposition groups to the election commission.

But Ndayicariye said the commission had not received any official notification confirming the withdrawal from the vote, meaning that the election would therefore progress without delay. Votes cast for the opposition would therefore still count, he said.

"This is nothing new in Burundi. In Africa, boycott is another way of doing politics," he said. The opposition boycotted polls in 2010.

Burundi was plunged into turmoil in late April when Nkurunziza launched his drive for a third consecutive five-year term, triggering widespread protests.

Opponents say his bid for another term is unconstitutional and violates a peace accord that paved the way to end 13 years of civil war in 2006.

Civil society groups backed the boycott 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.

Former colonial power Belgium has said it would not recognise the results of the elections, saying it is "impossible" for the polls to be held in an "acceptable manner".

Criticising the timetable for the polls set by the electoral commission, the opposition said it would not take part until conditions for "peaceful, transparent and inclusive" polls were met.

Former colonial power Belgium has said it would not recognise the results of the elections, saying it was "impossible" that the polls could be held in an "acceptable manner".

The ruling CNDD-FDD's youth wing, the fearsome Imbonerakure whose name means "The Watchmen" or, literally, "Those Who See Far", has been accused by the UN of waging a campaign of intimidation and violence.

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