When the order came to leave their protest camp, the students voiced the same refrain. “It is better to be killed in front of the American Embassy than to return to our campus to die,” they said.But after being pursued by the police, escaping to the parking lot of the United States Embassy and then being cast out of the compound, more than 100 university students gathered on Friday at the one place they felt safe: a church where many had prayed as children. They had no money, no food and no idea what the future would bring. “No one knows who is going to attack,” said one student leader, the morning after the police had stormed through their protest camp, sending them scrambling for safety. “We are living in fear and uncertainty.
They are not alone.
Burundi has become a nation gripped by fear and uncertainty, with the independent news media largely forced into silence, so rumor is often taken as fact and political tension can quickly lead to violence in the streets. When President Pierre Nkurunziza announced his intention to run for a third term in April, large protests erupted across the capital, with demonstrators contending that it was an end run around the term limits set out in the nation’s Constitution. The government, arguing that another term was legal, moved quickly to stifle dissent. About 70 people have died in the turmoil, many in clashes with the police, according to human right groups.
More recently, evenings in the capital have been punctuated by the sound of grenade explosions — there were at least three on Thursday — but it is unclear who is behind the attacks. Places associated with the government’s leaders are sometimes targeted. But just as often, grenades are tossed indiscriminately from car windows into crowded areas, seemingly an attempt to sow panic. There were similar attacks in the run-up to the 2010 election, but residents say they are more frequent now.
Last Friday, the United Nations secretary-general, Ban Ki-moon, said he was “deeply concerned over the prevailing political and security environment in Burundi,” and he called on the country’s leaders to “seriously consider” postponing the elections.
Students scooting under the gates of the United States Embassy in Bujumbura, Burundi, on Thursday as the police sought to break up their encampment. Protesters assembled Friday by a barricade in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, to challenge President Pierre Nkurunziza’s pursuit of a third term. Loyalists carried Willy Nyamitwe, a spokesman for Burundi’s president, in Bujumbura, the capital, as they celebrated news that a coup attempt had been thwarted. Nearly all of the nation’s opposition parties on Friday announced a boycott of both Monday’s parliamentary elections and the presidential vote scheduled for July 15.
At the same time, some of those opposed to the president have also grown more militant, threatening people who go to work at government institutions and seeking to disrupt all normal life, according to residents.