Burundi opposition rejects referendum, alleges intimidation
NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The leader of a Burundian opposition coalition said Saturday they would not accept the outcome of a referendum on extending the president’s time in office, calling the vote undemocratic and marred by intimidation.
As the East African nation awaited the electoral commission’s announcement of the results of Thursday’s vote, Agathon Rwasa said the opposition had proof of arrests of perceived opponents and threats of assassination against those who voted against changing the constitution.
“It is a parody. We will not accept the outcome of this referendum because it is a fantasy,” the former rebel leader told The Associated Press, calling on the electoral commission to redo the vote in a way that is free and fair.
“Some of our members have been kidnapped, others beaten by the (ruling party’s youth wing), while some people were forced to vote ‘yes’ and during counting our representatives were expelled,” Rwasa said.
It was not clear when results would be released from the referendum on changes that could extend President Pierre Nkurunziza’s rule until 2034. Nkurunziza had campaigned forcefully for the changes that include extending the president’s term from five years to seven, making him just the latest in a number of African leaders pursuing ways to stay in office.
Five million Burundians were registered to vote in the referendum that raised concerns about further bloodshed in the country that has seen deadly political violence since 2015.
Nkurunziza’s opponents say he already has ruled longer than the constitution allows. More than 1,200 people have been killed in protests since he decided in April 2015 to pursue a disputed third term.
International Criminal Court judges last year authorized an investigation into allegations of state-sponsored crimes — a decision unaffected by Burundi’s unprecedented withdrawal from the ICC.
Observers ahead of Thursday’s vote expressed alarm at reported violence and intimidation of the referendum’s perceived opponents, including threats of drowning and castration. A presidential decree criminalized calls to abstain from voting, with a penalty of up to three years in jail.
In a new report, Human Rights Watch says it documented 15 killings and six rapes used as punishment against those opposed to the referendum. It accused Burundi’s security services and ruling party youth league members of abducting, beating and intimidated suspected opponents.
The government rejects such allegations, calling them propaganda by exiles.
“Burundi’s referendum took place amid widespread abuse, fear and pressure — a climate that is clearly not conducive to free choice,” said Ida Sawyer, Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
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