BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Thousands of supporters of Burundi’s president Saturday protested against the African Union’s plan to deploy 5,000 peacekeepers to quell the country’s escalating unrest.
Burundi has been rocked by turmoil since April when it was announced that President Pierre Nkurunziza would run for a third term. Nkurunziza was re-elected in July but the violence has since escalated.
The demonstration in Bujumbura, the capital, was led by Vice President Gaston Sindimwo who insisted that Burundi’s army is capable of halting violence and protecting all Burundians. Other protests were in Ngonzi province, Nkurunziza’s hometown and a stronghold of the ruling party.
Burundi will never accept the African Union’s forces, Sindimwo said.
“Burundi is a member of the African Union and has not accepted those forces. How can they say the AU has decided, yet Burundi has not accepted?” he asked.
“We would like to warn AU troops that the majority of Burundians don’t want them and they should not impose themselves on the people of Burundi,” Alice Nakuto, a member of the ruling party’s militia known as Imbonerakure and who took part in demonstrations in Ngonzi province, told The Associated Press by phone.
Earlier this month 87 people died when three military installations were attacked by rebels who said this week they are fighting to topple Nkurunziza.
At least 400 people have died in Burundi’s violence since April and some 220,000 have fled to neighboring countries, according to the United Nations.
Burundi’s government has rejected the A.U.’s plans to deploy peacekeepers, describing it as an invasion force.
The African Union says it has written to Nkurunziza urging him to consent to the deployment of a peacekeeping force in Burundi, as fears grow that the country is rapidly sliding toward another civil war.
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni is scheduled to mediate talks between the fighting sides in Kampala next week. Fourteen Burundian groups are expected to attend.
Associated Press writer Ignatius Ssuuna contributed to this report from Kigali, Rwanda.
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