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Coping With Continued Violence And Uncertainty In Burundi


Democracy is being tested in a small, East African country of Burundi. After weeks of protests against President Nkurunziza and his bid for a third term, there was an attempt to overthrow his government on Wednesday. The president has since cracked down on the opposition. Five military generals and 13 others said to be behind the failed coup have been arrested. Ruth Nesoba is with the BBC. We spoke to her earlier from the capital, a major opposition stronghold. She says the streets are much calmer today.

RUTH NESOBA, BYLINE: Today, we went out. And there were some little spots where there were protestors, especially in the neighborhood of Nyakabiga, where about a hundred young men had come out. There were soldiers there trying to stop them from putting barricades on the road. The soldiers were armed. But in the central business district, activity was picking up. Shops were opening. There were a few heavy buildups of traffic. And people we talked to are saying they were trying to restock their supplies and not knowing what will be happening in the weeks to come.

RATH: These opposition protests against the president began last month after the president decided to run for a third term. That's something that a lot of people say is unconstitutional. You said there are some sporadic protests still happening today. Do you think they're going to continue now?

NESOBA: Most of the protests in last two, three weeks, would happen during the weekday, Monday through Friday. And then over the weekend, they would take a break. And on Monday, they would start again with renewed energy and vigor. Those who we've been talking to are saying that they're rejuvenating, energizing themselves, ready for the mother of all protests because they think the coup was an interruption for them because it didn't achieve what they thought they were out on the streets for, that that debate for the president is what brought all this up, and it has to be resolved in a better way.

RATH: The fighting on Wednesday centered around broadcasting stations. Who is controlling the flow of information now, and what do people know about what's going on?

NESOBA: All private radio stations are still switched off. So the information flow in the country is being controlled by the national broadcaster, which has no choice but to, I mean, obey government in line.

RATH: It was not that long ago that Burundi emerged from a brutal civil war. Are there any fears that the conflict right now could reignite the tensions that existed during the civil war?

NESOBA: In fact, this country has two ethnic communities, the Tutsis and the Hutu. The president's from the Hutu. And most of the opposition leaders are Tutsis. But when you speak to those who are not in power, the ordinary people, they - I think that our grievances cut across the ethnic divides. It is - the problems they were bringing up were more about the economy, were more about access to job opportunities. And they were more about the standards of life here. But Burundi has been unstable since independence. It is not the first time that we are witnessing this kind of fighting.

RATH: Ruth, given all that's happened, are elections still on track to take place?

NESOBA: In his address, the president never mentioned the elections. A visitor visiting the capital would not even see any semblance of campaigns or election going on. But out there in the regions, we saw campaign rallies were going on because the only means of information is the national radio. And perhaps they not even heard that a coup has taken place. So campaigns are going on. Whether they will happen in the capital is a big question. The electoral commission has not spoken yet.

RATH: Ruth Nesoba of the BBC, speaking with us from Bujumbura, capital of Burundi. Ruth, thanks very much.

NESOBA: Thank you so much. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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