Burundians protest over criticism by UN chief

Thousands of people joined an official demonstration in Burundi on Saturday, in response to criticism by the United Nations chief about a planned revision to the country’s constitution.

The protest was called by the mayor of Bujumbura, the capital, after UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres used a report to criticise proposals that could allow Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza to hold on to power for another decade or more.

“We are here to denounce the report by the UN Secretary General on Burundi, in which he lied a lot about our country and I call you to boo him very loudly,” one speaker called at the rally.

Guterres said opposition and civil society groups must be included in any decision to change the country’s constitution to avoid a flareup of conflict, according to a report obtained by AFP on Tuesday.

The UN chief said he was “deeply concerned” that talks between the government and the opposition remain deadlocked, and said it was crucial that all sides “most especially the government” engage in a dialogue.

In power since 2005, Nkurunziza ran for a third term and was re-elected in 2015 despite provisions that set a limit of two five-year presidential terms.

The decision to run again sparked violence in Burundi that has left hundreds dead, and sent more than 400,000 Burundians fleeing across borders, mostly to Tanzania.

Nkurunziza’s supporters argued his first term was a parliamentary appointment, not an election result.

The president has launched a campaign to hold a referendum on a new constitution, probably in May, that would set a limit of two seven-year presidential terms.

Several opposition leaders have either boycotted the talks on the constitutional changes or raised questions about their legality.

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