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A Step Backward In Burundi


Men duck for cover as heavy gunfire erupts in the Miskin district of Bangui. (Feb. 3, 2014.)

Rising political tensions in Burundi ahead of next year’s elections have sparked violent clashes between police and opposition activists in recent days

Rising political tensions in Burundi ahead of next year’s elections have sparked violent clashes between police and opposition activists in recent days. Actions taken by both sides are inconsistent with the Central African nation’s notable progress toward creating a peaceful democracy.


In two separate incidents on March 8, government officials took action to break up political gatherings being held by two different opposition parties. Police used heavy-handed tactics to stop a peaceful rally by the women’s wing of United for National Progress to mark International Women’s Day. Later, police dispersed a gathering of another political opposition party, some of whose members subsequently congregated at the headquarters of the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy political party, or MSD.

Two police officers attempting to arrest three MSD members, who had taken refuge in the headquarters, were taken hostage by opposition members. Following unsuccessful mediation, police assaulted the building to free the hostages. The police and opposition members exchanged live fire during this confrontation. Authorities later issued an arrest warrant on insurgency charges for the MSD’s chairman, Alexis Sinduhje.

The United States deplores the acts of violence by both government officials and opposition members in the incidents, which follow a series of restrictions placed on civil and political rights in Burundi. Restricting public gatherings in this way has a chilling effect on public debate.

We urge the Government of Burundi to adhere to its human rights obligations and to respect the constitutional right of the political opposition to hold peaceful gatherings. It is also imperative that all sides refrain from the kind of violence seen in the March 8 clashes. It is important that all sides respect the democratic process so that Burundi can hold free, fair, transparent and peaceful elections in 2015.
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