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Burundi opposition slams wave of arrests as election nears

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Burundi’s main opposition party on Saturday denounced the arrests of 23 local leaders in one of their strongholds on the outskirts of the capital.

National Freedom Council (CNL) spokesman Therence Manirambona said the arrests began on Thursday after confusing reports of an attack — which turned out to involve a gang of goat thieves — in a nearby suburb.

“After a sham attack in the Kanyosha suburb on Wednesday, there was a wave of arrests of local CNL leaders in neighbouring suburbs of Isale and Mubimbi,” he told AFP.

“Twenty-three people have already been arrested by the police and Imbonerakure (the ruling party’s youth wing).”

A police source confirmed the arrests for “investigative purposes” but would not reveal the reason for their detention, citing the “confidentiality” of the investigation process.

Manirambona charged that one of those arrested in the suburb of Mubimbi was “beaten to death” on Thursday night and his family had not been given access to his remains.

“No one is being jailed for political reasons, they were arrested for violating the law,” a local government official from Mubimbi, Leonidas Ntirandekura told AFP Saturday.

“The one who died from illness and we had driven him to a health centre, not from being beaten as alleged by the CNL.”

Initially, messages from the ruling party WhatsApp groups flooded social media claimed an attack by some 120 armed fighters who were said to be from the CNL was underway on Wednesday in Kanyosha.

Gunfire was reported by witnesses and local media.

However local administrator Jean Berchmans Munzerere told private radio station Isangiro that in reality the chaos was caused by a group of six goat thieves who were being chased by police.

“We denounce this harassment orchestrated by the government ahead of the May 2020 elections,” said Manirambona, who said such cases had spiked as the polls near.

“Today we count at least six supporters killed, others have been reported missing or tortured. More than 200 are rotting in jail and more than 100 of our offices have been destroyed or damaged,” he said.

These figures have been confirmed by civil society and local media.

CNL leader Agathon Rwasa is considered the main challenger to the ruling CNDD-FDD’s Evariste Ndayishimiye in the May 20 presidential election.

President Pierre Nkurunziza, in power since 2005, stunned observers by announcing he would not seek re-election after a constitutional change allowed him to do so.

His controversial election to a third term in 2015 plunged the country into crisis.

The violent aftermath of the last presidential election in 2015 made Burundi a focus of an investigation by the International Criminal Court for alleged murder, rape, torture, and disappearances.

Civil unrest left 1,200 people dead and drove 400,000 from their homes.


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