The Catholic bishops of Burundi have called for the country’s elections in June to be postponed as violence broke out on the streets of the capital.
Church leaders in Burundi have said that they will ask Catholics to leave the country’s electoral commission if President Pierre Nkurunziza seeks a third term in office in a move which would violate the country’s constitution.
Bishop Gervais Banshimiyubusa, the head of the Conference of Catholic Bishops in Burundi, said in a statement: “Let’s use dialogue and consultation and stop using violent means. The method, which so far has been beneficial to us, has been that of people in conflict sitting together to dialogue and consult.
“Instead of sticking to this path of confrontation which mostly leads to loss of lives, our leaders and all other protagonists should embrace dialogue and consultation.”
Catholics make up roughly two-thirds of Burundi’s seven million population and yield significant political influence.
Since the end of April when President Nkurunziza announced his first term, opposition parties and civil society groups have been organising protests against a third term bid by the incumbent president.
Violence has now broken out in the capital of Bujumbura following confusion after an attempted coup, culminating in police opening fire on opposition protestors.
The coup was announced by Major Gen Godefroid Niyombare, a former intelligence chief, after Mr Nkurunziza left for regional talks in Tanzania yesterday. In a radio broadcast Major Gen Godefroid Niyombare said: “The masses vigorously and tenaciously reject President Nkurunziza’s third-term mandate. President Pierre Nkurunziza has been relieved of his duties. The government is overthrown.”
But the presidency said that the coup was “imaginary.”