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Hundreds of Women March in Defiance of Burundi’s Ban on Protests

Braving the possibility of violence at the hands of police, hundreds of women marched in Burundi's capital against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s plan to seek re-election.
May 11, 2015, 9:36am
Photo par Goran Tomasevic/Reuters

Hundreds of women gathered Sunday in Burundi's capital Bujumbura, defying a government ban on protests and braving the possibility of violence at the hands of police to march against President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to seek a third term in office.

"We are mothers. It is our children who are killed. It is our children who are in prison. We are here to respect human rights. We are here against the third term," the women chanted, according to RFI.


One protester was reported killed Sunday after being shot in the Musaga area of the capital, according to the Associated Press, but it did not appear that the victim was one of the women involved in the march. Local reports said police tried to block the women from reaching the capital's central Independence Square, but they did not use force and the women ultimately dispersed peacefully.

Related: Protesters Burn Body Amid Escalating Violence Over President's Third Term Bid

It was a stark contrast to previous weeks. At least 19 people have been killed since April 25, when Nkurunziza announced his plan to flout a two-term limit imposed by the country's constitution and seek re-election. Hundreds have been injured, and approximately 600 people have also been reported detained in connection with the demonstrations.

"Women decided to stand up today to say no to the violation of the constitution," Beatrice Nyamoya, one of the protest leaders, told Reuters.

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said Saturday that East African leaders would hold a summit to seek a way to stop the violence and ensure fair elections, according to Reuters.

Related: 'The President Will Go to the Hague': Protests Increase in Burundi

Today in #Burundi: Women demonstrate in Buja. Cops tried to stop them #womenstrongerthanmen. Photos: @soniarolley

— Eliza Mackintosh (@elizamackintosh) May 10, 2015


"We have agreed to meet… to discuss how to help our brothers and sisters in Burundi to hold successful elections and ensure that their nation is united, peaceful and secure without any unnecessary conflicts," Kikwete said in a statement. Leaders from Uganda, Kenya, and Rwanda are expected to attend the summit in Ethiopia's capital Dar es Salaam.

According to the UN's refugee agency, more than 50,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring Rwanda, Tanzania, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo amid the escalating violence.

Last week, anti-government protesters burned the body of a man suspected of being a member of the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of Burundi's ruling CNDD-FDD party. The Imbonerakure has been accused of harassing and intimidating protesters, and acting as an armed militia for Nkurunziza.

After officially filing for his candidacy for president on Friday, Nkurunziza downplayed the violence throughout the country. "Burundians have no problem with elections… because 99 percent of the country is peaceful," he said, according to the BBC. "These demonstrations have turned into insurrection, but it is something that will be controlled… and I assure you that the elections will go well."

A former rebel leader, Nkurunziza was appointed president in 2005 by Burundi's parliament after a decade of civil war. His supporters have argued he's eligible for a third term because he didn't have to face a general election when he first took office. The country's constitutional court has ruled that he is eligible to run.

Nkurunziza's bid for re-election and the subsequent protests have led US officials to threaten sanctions against the country. According to Reuters, US Ambassador to the UN Samantha Power said there was an "apparent lack of judicial impartiality" in constitutional court's decision to support Nkurunziza.

"The United States is very carefully monitoring the situation and we are prepared to take targeted measures, including visa bans or sanctions, against those who plan or participate in widespread violence," Power said.

Follow Gillian Mohney on Twitter: @gillianmohney

VICE News' Dieudonné Hakizimana and Kayla Ruble contributed to this report