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Sunday, July 12, 2015
Burundi postpones vote, troops battle rebels in north

Burundi postpones vote, troops battle rebels in north

Bujumbura (Burundi) (AFP) - Presidential elections in crisis-hit Burundi have been postponed to July 21, nearly a week later than originally scheduled, the presidency announced Saturday, amid renewed unrest in the capital and battles with rebels near the Rwandan border.

A decree signed by President Pierre Nkurunziza, whose controversial bid to stand for a third consecutive five-year term has sparked weeks of civil unrest, said the polls would be moved from July 15 to July 21, with campaigning extended until the evening of July 18.

Witnesses meanwhile said at least one person was shot dead in the capital Bujumbura during a night punctuated by a string of grenade attacks followed by bursts of heavy gunfire as police responded to the attackers.

A regional official in the north also claimed at least 12 gunmen were killed in clashes with government troops in near Rugazi, 140 kilometres (85 miles) north of the capital Bujumbura and in a thickly forested area on the Rwandan border.

Rebel Burundian army soldiers who tried but failed to overthrow Nkurunziza in a coup in mid-May were involved in the fighting, a rebel general told France24 television.

The central African nation has been gripped by months of unrest over Nkurunziza's plan to stand for a third consecutive five-year term, which opposition groups say is unconstitutional and a violation of a peace deal that ended a dozen years of civil war in 2006.

There are fears the crisis could plunge the landlocked, impoverished nation back into war.

"The armed group entered from Rwanda and attacked very early yesterday morning," said Canisius Ndayimanisha, governor of Kayanza province. "The local population alerted a military post and there were two battles which left 12 of the attackers dead."

He added that the group was believed to be around 500-strong, and that the remaining fighters had "disappeared into the forest".

- 'Rebels across the country' -

Speaking to France24 television late Friday, Burundian rebel general Leonard Ngendakumana -- who took part in the failed coup in May to topple Nkurunziza -- said rebel soldiers were involved in the fighting.

"Our soldiers were attacked by the army and responded. They inflicted several losses on Nkurunziza's forces," he told the station.

No independent confirmation of the rival casualty claims was immediately available.

The rebel general also denied his soldiers had crossed from Rwanda, dismissing the allegation as government "propaganda" and insisting rebel soldiers were present in many parts of the country.

General Ngendakumana, a former top intelligence officer, is an ally of coup leader General Godefroid Niyombare, who has been on the run since their attempt to seize power was thwarted.

The five-nation East African Community (EAC), which has been trying to mediate an end to the crisis, had on Monday called for elections to be delayed by two weeks, to July 30, to allow time for more talks between Nkurunziza's ruling CNDD-FDD party and opposition groups -- although these talks have so far made no progress.

Parliamentary polls, in which the CNDD-FDD scored a widely-expected landslide win, were held on May 29 but boycotted by the opposition and internationally condemned.

Opposition and rights groups argue that weeks of protests and a violent crackdown by security forces mean free and fair elections are impossible.

The country has also been left without most of its independent media outlets, after several radio stations were attacked and destroyed in fighting during the attempted coup.

Over 70 people have been killed in more than two months of protests, with over 158,000 refugees fleeing to neighbouring countries, according to the latest UN figures.
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