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Thousands celebrate after Burundi journalist released

19 February 2015, 13:30

Bujumbura -Thousands marched in celebration through the Burundi capital Thursday after the release of a journalist from jail in one of the largest demonstrations in recent years, an AFP reporter said.

Vast crowds singing and dancing peacefully filled the streets of Bujumbura a day after Bob Rugurika, director of the popular independent African Public Radio (RPA), was released from prison on bail.

There was no official figure for how many took to the streets, but residents said the mass rally of tens of thousands was the largest they could remember.

"I'm 50 and I have never seen such a crowd in the streets," said Fabian, a teacher, saying the only event comparable in size he could remember were celebrations for Burundi's first elected president Melchior Ndadaye in 1993.

The arrest of Rugurika for "complicity" in the murder of three Italian nuns sparked protests by civil rights activists and fellow journalists, who have accused the government of doing all it can to sideline political challengers ahead of elections in May and June, including arrests, harassment and a clampdown on free speech.

The radio is seen as close to the political opposition.

Rugurika was arrested on January 21 after broadcasting the purported confession of a man claiming he was one of the killers.

A court on Wednesday granted him bail of 15 million Burundi francs ($9,500, 8,400 euros), but his lawyer Lambert Nigarura said there was a need for a proper investigation into the "real murderers of the three nuns."

For broadcasting the alleged confession, Rugurika was charged with complicity in the murders, "breach of public solidarity" and disclosing confidential information regarding a case.

Also read: Burundi warns campaigners opposing president's possible third term

The purported confession contradicted a police account of the crime and implicated the security services.

He faces up to 20 years in prison if convicted.

Burundi, a small landlocked nation in central Africa's Great Lakes region, emerged in 2006 from a brutal 13-year civil war. The political climate remains fractious ahead of local, parliamentary and presidential polls beginning in May.

The three Roman Catholic nuns, aged between 75 and 83, were murdered at a convent north of Bujumbura in September.

Rights groups have warned of growing fears of the risk of violence ahead of elections, with a string of attacks including a five-day battle last month between the army and rebels.

President Pierre Nkurunziza, in power since 2005, is expected to run for a third term in office despite opponents' claims that a new mandate would violate Burundi's constitution.


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