Burundi protesters launch fresh anti-government demonstrations

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Bujumbura, May 18: Protesters opposed to Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza launched fresh demonstrations today, resuming weeks of street marches after a failed coup, despite warnings from the government.

Small groups gathered in several parts of the capital Bujumbura, singing songs and blowing whistles, each time chased away by soldiers shooting in the air, then regrouping elsewhere.

But tensions also appeared within the army that, five days on since the coup attempt led by a top general which saw soldiers battling each other on the streets, have largely replaced the police to stem the protests. One soldier shouted at protesters to "leave the streets", warning that they were not going to fire water cannon, but guns.

"We are firing water, we are firing bullets," he shouted. Before the coup attempt the army was seen by many protesters as being more neutral than the police - often standing between demonstrators and the police - and some soldiers were unhappy at the force's role.

"We are not there to shoot people," one said. At least 20 people died in street battles with security forces before the demonstrations ended when generals launched a failed coup attempt last week.

"Let's end fear, regain our momentum," said Pacifique Nininahazwe, a leading figure of the protest against Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in power. Nininahazwe called for a "peaceful march," "no insults" and no stones to be thrown.

"We stop when police confront us, we sit with hands in the air, then we resume walking," he said, in a message spread via social media, after four key independent radios were closed by the authorities. In the capital's Nyakabiga district, the army fired shots into the air, with protesters reacting by lying down on the ground, raising their hands in the air and singing the national anthem.

Bujumbura mayor Juma Saidi, speaking on state television yesterday, warned that "demonstrators will be considered as part of the coup, and security forces have been ordered to treat them as such." A group of top generals on Wednesday launched a bid to oust Nkurunziza while he was on a visit to neighbouring Tanzania after almost three weeks of protests over his controversial bid to stand again for office.

AFP

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