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Burundi Students Are Seeking Refuge in the US Embassy's Parking Lot as Top Official Flees

University students began seeking refuge at the US embassy in Bujumbura nearly two months ago and on Thursday police reportedly threatened to use force to relocate them.
Photo by AP

As political turmoil persists in Burundi, the US embassy in the East African country is currently hosting around 100 university students who have sought refuge in the building's parking lot after police removed them from embassy property.

At the end of April, the government shuttered the University of Burundi in the capital city Bujumbura amid protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza's controversial decision to seek a third term in office. With the school closed and violent police crackdowns on protesters increasing, students began to flock to the embassy grounds for refuge on April 30, citing security concerns.


At the time, the State Department's assistant secretary of state for democracy Tom Malinowski went to the embassy to visit the 600 students who said they had fled there.

Related: In Photos: Masked Protesters Face Off with Burundi Police

Student protesters seeking refuge crawl under the gates of the U.S. Embassy in the capital Bujumbura, Burundi Thursday, June 25, 2015. (Photo: Associated Press)

Police reportedly persuaded the students to exit the embassy ground on Thursday, with many relocating to the parking lot. Four protesters were reportedly injured during scuffles that ensued in the process.

National University of Burundi history major Landry Ndikuriyo told the Associated Press that the police threatened to forcefully evict the students.

"There was no violent action against the embassy. This wasn't directed at the United States," Kirby told reporters. "There was never any penetration of the actual embassy compound, and none of our State Department employees were under any physical threat whatsoever."

Speaking from Washington, US state department spokesman John Kirby confirmed that students had begun leaving the premises. According to Kirby, all of the embassy staff members were safe.

Also on Thursday, Burundi's second Vice President Gervais Rufyikiri said he fled the country to Belgium because he fears for his life. Rufyikiri is the most senior official to express opposition to Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term, which many view as unconstitutional because of the country's two-term limit for president. Nkurunziza and his supporters, however, have maintained that his first term as the country's head of state did not count because he was appointed by parliament after the country's decade-long civil war.

In an interview with Radio France International today, Rufyikiri said he has not officially resigned, despite having left Burundi. Dozens of government officials, opposition members, and civil society activists have also gone into exile.

Presidential elections, originally scheduled for June 26, were postponed until mid-July after international and regional pressure. Since protests began in April, at least 77 people have died during demonstrations.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.