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East Africa nations to meet on Burundi crisis, minus Nkurunziza


east africaEast African officials were to meet in Tanzania on Sunday for a summit on the crisis in Burundi sparked by a divisive bid by President Pierre Nkurunziza to stand for a third term.

The Burundian president, however, will not be attending. His spokesman said he instead will be pushing ahead with a controversial re-election campaign that has sparked weeks of deadly civil unrest and a regional refugee crisis.

It was during a first crisis meeting on May 13 in Tanzania’s economic capital, attended by Nkurunziza, that a top general launched an unsuccessful bid to oust him — and the president is also seen as being wary of again leaving the country.

“President Nkurunziza will not go to Dar es Salaam,” Gervais Abahiro told AFP. “He will be represented there by his foreign minister. He is campaigning and decided to delegate his minister.”

The summit in Dar es Salaam is scheduled to be attended by East African Community (EAC) leaders from Uganda, Tanzania and Kenya. Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda, a key regional player and Burundi’s neighbour, will not be attending and is sending a minister to represent him, Rwandan officials said.

The crisis in Burundi erupted after the ruling party designated Nkurunziza as its candidate for upcoming elections and for a third consecutive five-year term in office, something that opposition and rights groups say violates the constitution as well as a 2006 peace deal that ended a 13-year civil war.

Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the conflict, marked by massacres between the majority Hutu and minority Tutsi communities, and there are fears the current crisis — which has already prompted 90,000 Burundians to flee the country — could plunge the country back into open conflict.

– Calls for election delay –

Asked to rule on Nkurunziza’s candidacy, Burundi’s constitutional court found in favour of the president, but not before one of the judges also fled the country, claiming that its members were subject to death threats.

Key international donors have withdrawn their support for the polls, as has the influential Catholic Church in Burundi, and on Saturday it emerged that a senior member of the election commission had fled the country — further plunging preparations for the polls into disarray.

The country’s main opposition leader, Agathon Rwasa, also said elections would be a “masquerade” if they go ahead.

Burundi’s government has insisted that parliamentary elections will take place on June 5 despite the crisis, while a presidential poll is scheduled for June 26.

Diplomats have hinted that one possible outcome of the regional summit would be a call for another delay in the elections, although Burundi’s EAC partners are expected to stop short of telling Nkurunziza to relinquish his attempt to stay in office.

Tanzania, which has been openly critical of Nkurunziza, on Friday called on Burundi’s government to “listen” to its people.

“Our position is that we call on the Burundian people to remain calm and we urged the government to listen to them,” Tanzania’s foreign minister, Bernard Membe, told state-run TBC1 television.

UN special envoy Said Djinnit said talks between the Burundian government and opposition had made progress on several issues — including the reopening of independent media and the release of detainees — but not on the key issue of a halt to protests in return for Nkurunziza’s agreement not to stand again.

He said both sides “have agreed to resume their talks after the summit in Dar es Salaam.”

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