Dar es Salaam – East African leaders gathered on Wednesday for a crisis summit meeting hoped to broker a deal to end weeks of deadly violence in Burundi over the president’s controversial third term bid.
Foreign ministers from the five-nation East African Community (EAC) – made up of Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda as well as Burundi – met in the Tanzanian city of Dar es Salaam on Tuesday, Kenyan Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed said, ahead of the presidential summit later on Wednesday.
Over 20 people have been killed and scores wounded since late April, when Burundi’s ruling party nominated President Pierre Nkurunziza to stand for re-election in June 26 polls, triggering daily protests.
Burundi’s presidency confirmed early on Wednesday Nkurunziza was “on his way” to Dar es Salaam.
Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader from the Hutu majority who has been in power since 2005, has come under international pressure to withdraw from next month’s election and stand down.
The clashes between security forces and demonstrators have raised fears of a return to violence in the central African state, which is still recovering from a brutal 13-year civil war that ended in 2006.
Democratic Republic of Congo President Joseph Kabila, South Africa’s Deputy President Cyril Ramaphosa and the US top diplomat for Africa Linda Thomas-Greenfield are also expected to attend the summit.
Over 50 000 Burundians have fled into neighbouring nations since the unrest began.
Opposition groups insist that it is unconstitutional for Nkurunziza to run for more than two terms.
On Tuesday police in Bujumbura opened fire on protesters in an apparent attempt to scatter crowds who wanted to attack the house of a police officer.
Protesters were on the streets again early on Wednesday in Bujumbura, blocking roads and chanting anti-government slogans.
The European Union and United States on Monday called for elections to be delayed, as has Nkurunziza’s main challenger.
African Union Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma last week warned the time was not right for elections, and that it was “clear that there shouldn’t be a third term”.
While the police have ripped down barricades on main roads, side streets in key opposition areas remain blocked, guarded by angry demonstrators.