Protest-hit Burundi cuts mobile networks, blocks Twitter and Facebook as strongman brings hammer down


Authorities banned three popular radio stations from live reporting demonstrations, and shut down one broadcaster.

AUTHORITIES in protest-hit Burundi on Wednesday cut mobile access to several social networks and messaging applications, a telecoms official said.

Networks including Twitter, Facebook and Whatsapp—which have been used to coordinate protests—were no longer accessible via mobile telephone in the capital Bujumbura, although an official explanation for the service cut has not been given.

A telecoms source confirmed that operators had been ordered in writing by Burundi’s telecommunications regulator, ARCT, to block mobile access to certain sites.

“The ARCT told us in writing yesterday to suspend several social networks, notably Whatsapp, Twitter, Facebook and Tango, but not all Internet access,” the source said.

At least five people have died since unrest broke out at the weekend, when the ruling CNDD-FDD party designated President Pierre Nkurunziza its candidate for the presidential election to be held in the central African nation on June 26.

157 arrested

Opposition figures and rights groups say Nkurunziza’s attempt to stand for a third consecutive term goes against the constitution as well as the peace deal that ended a civil war in 2006.

Burundi authorities arrested 157 people during protests, police chief Andre Ndayambaje said Monday in an interview in the capital, Bujumbura.

He didn’t give any details on a death toll, which local broadcasters such as Radio Isanganiro have put at five people, and said police are still assessing the impact of the protests. 

Nkurunziza came to power in 2005 after leading a rebel group during the landlocked country’s 12-year civil war. The Arusha Accords, which eventually brought an end to the conflict that killed 300,000 people, stipulated a two-term presidential limit and power-sharing between the country’s ethnic groups. 

Opponents say Nkurunziza’s attempt to win a third term at the June 26 vote would violate these pacts. 

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon condemned the violence and called on Burundi’s authorities to investigate the reported deaths. 

Ban has dispatched his special envoy for the Great Lakes region, Said Djinnit, to consult Nkurunziza and political leaders, according to a statement on Monday from his spokesman. 

Security services should remain impartial and show restraint in their response to demonstrations, Ban said. 

Police arrested Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, a rights activist and outspoken critic of the government, in Bujumbura on Monday, Human Rights Watch said. The 66-year-old, who was detained by authorities for at least three months last year, was “kicked and roughed up,” according to the New York-based group, which cited journalists at the scene. 

Authorities have also placed restrictions on local media, banning three popular radio stations from live reporting from demonstrations, and shut down at least one broadcaster, according to Human Rights Watch. 

Deploying Rwanda rebels?

Opposition party leader Leonce Ngendakumana accused the ruling party of deploying Rwandan rebels to suppress demonstrations. “Police uniforms have been given to them in Gatumba,” close to the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where they are based, Ngendakumana said by phone late Monday. 

Police chief Ndayambaje denied any rebel involvement. The UN and rights groups such as Amnesty International have warned of increasing politically motivated violence in Burundi over the past year. A July report by London-based Amnesty said that members of the Imbonerakure, the CNDD-FDD’s youth wing, have intimidated and attacked political opponents with impunity, suggesting “serious implications for human rights” before the elections. The ruling party said the report was untrue. 

At least 11,850 people have fled to neighbouring Rwanda since the start of the month as incidents of violence mount before the elections, the UN said on April 24. 

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