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Burundi’s President Postpones Parliamentary Elections Amid Rising Tensions and Renewed Protests

President Pierre Nkurunziza appealed for unity between the country’s Hutus and Tutsis on Wednesday, saying “the blood that was spilled in the past has taught us a lesson."
Imagen por Jerome Delay/AP

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza appealed for unity between the country's Hutus and Tutsis in a televised address on Wednesday, a day marked by renewed protests and a heavy police presence in the streets of the capital Bujumbura.

"No Burundian wants to revive the tensions of ethnic division or any other nature," Nkurunziza said, referring to the country's 12-year civil war that ended in 2005. "The blood that was spilled in the past has taught us a lesson."

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On Wednesday morning, Nkurunziza signed a decree postponing parliamentary elections for a week, from May 26 to June 5, following a request by the country's electoral commission.

In the third day of demonstrations since a failed coup attempt that began last Wednesday and ended on Friday, people flocked to the streets to protest Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in office in upcoming presidential elections, scheduled for June 26.

Related: Protesters Brave Threats to Return Burundi's Streets Following Failed Coup Against President

Tensions between Burundi's military and police have been running high, and, according to a witness and a soldier interviewed by AFP, a police officer shot and killed a soldier in the neighborhood of Nyakabiga on Wednesday. "A soldier was just killed, he was shot in the heart, it is a police officer who fired," the soldier who witnessed the shooting reportedly said.

The capital's Musaga neighborhood — home to many anti-government protesters — was overrun with police on Wednesday, and there were reports of heavy gunfire during clashes with demonstrators, who hurled rocks at the police. According to French daily Le Monde, ambulances were not allowed into the neighborhood.

Protesters in Musaga called for the withdrawal of the police, who are considered a much more repressive force than the army, which has often acted as a buffer between both camps over the past few weeks.

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Related: Burundi Silences Radio Stations and Arrests Human Rights Activist as Political Crackdown Continues

Le jour décline à Musaga. Police et groupe soldatq en chiens de faïence. Derrière : des manifestants. Compliqué. — Jean Philippe remy (@jpremylemonde)May 20, 2015

"The day is coming to an end in Musaga. Police and soldiers face off. Behind them: protesters. It's complicated."

Meanwhile, the continued government crackdown on Burundi's independent media has left many in the country without access to reliable information.

On Monday, news sites Burundi Agnews and Burundi Forum erroneously published reports that a French aircraft loaded with weapons to arm Burundian rebels had landed in Bujumbura. In fact, the plane was transporting 15 French police officers dispatched as added security for the French embassy in the capital.

Apart from Burundi's news group Iwacu, most of the country's independently owned media outlets remained shut down Wednesday. Iwacu, which publishes a widely circulated weekly newspaper and a popular news site, was up and running again after five days of inactivity.

The offices of other news outlets, such as Radio RPA — Burundi's main independent radio — and television channel Télé Renaissance remained closed as part of the media blackout. RPA, which was shuttered by the government at the start of the protests, resumed broadcasting after the coup announcement before being attacked and burned by loyalists.

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Radio Isanganiro and Bonesha FM were also attacked, seemingly by loyalist forces, and staff at Bonesha FM said they were given five minutes to leave the premises before police officers vandalized their equipment.

Last week, following the announcement of the coup, protesters torched Rema FM, a broadcaster associated with the ruling party.

On Tuesday, Innocent Muhozi, who heads Renaissance Television and Radio (RTR), tried to reopen the station but was turned away by police.

Related: In Photos: Masked Protesters Face Off with Burundi Police as Anti-Government Demonstrations Rage On

US ambassador Dawn Liberi met Tuesday at the Iwacu offices with Muhozi, Iwacu's general director Antoine Kaburahe, and government spokesman Willy Nyamitwe, who said that independent media would be allowed to resume broadcasting only after an inventory of all the equipment destroyed in the attacks had taken place, and the attackers had been identified.

According to the UN, more than 100,000 people have fled Burundi since the start of the unrest. Cholera has broken out among Burundian refugees in Tanzania, and, according to a Tanzanian health official quoted by Reuters, 33 people have died so far in an outbreak at the camp in the northwest of the country.

Follow Matthieu Jublin on Twitter @matthieujublin