Thousands of people took to the streets of Burundi’s capital Bujumbura Saturday to condemn what the country’s embattled government calls neighbouring Rwanda’s meddling in its affairs.
Around 4,000 people rallied to the government’s call to demonstrate over Rwanda’s “acts of aggression” towards Burundi, journalists at the scene said. The organisers estimated the turnout at over 10,000.
“We condemn (Rwandan President Paul) Kagame and his plan to destabilise Burundi and the entire Great Lakes region,” a placard waved by one of the protesters read.
Relations between Burundi and its neighbour to the north have deteriorated since Burundi sank into a deep political crisis ten months ago over President Pierre Nkurunziza’s quest for a third term in office.
Saturday’s demonstration in Bujumbura came to a halt outside the Rwandan embassy in Bujumbura where Kagame was copiously booed.
“We are on the battlefield. Encourage our soldiers! Kagame is an enemy, we are going to wash him away,” the crowd sang.
Burundi has accused Rwanda of backing rebels intent on overthrowing Nkurunziza, who was returned to power in July elections, despite weeks of protests that were violently repressed and calls from world leaders for him to step aside.
Smaller anti-Rwandan demonstrations also took place Saturday in the Burundi’s second city of Gitega and in Nkurunziza’s home province of Ngozi.
Last week, UN experts told the Security Council that Rwanda has recruited and trained refugees from Burundi, among them children, who wanted to remove Nkurunziza from power.
Rwanda has denied the allegations. This week Kigali announced it would relocate the estimated 75,000 Burundians sheltering on its soil to third countries, saying the “long-term presence of refugees so close to their country of origin carries considerable risks for all involved.”
– ‘Adding fuel to the fire’ –
Hundreds of people have been killed in the unrest in Burundi, which has become entrenched, with armed opposition members periodically engaging in shootouts with the security forces.
Over 230,000 people have fled the fighting abroad.
Saturday’s pro-government demonstrations have dampened expectations for a breakthrough in the crisis during an upcoming visit by African heads of state.
“Of course, Rwanda has meddled in Burundi’s affairs but it’s clear Nkurunziza is overdoing it. He’s adding fuel to the fire to try show he is facing an external aggression and not a domestic political crisis that is turning into a civil war,” a Western diplomat based in Burundi, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told AFP.