BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AFP) – Thousands marched through Burundi’s capital Thursday in the largest demonstrations in recent years after the release of a popular journalist and government critic from jail, ahead of key elections.
Crowds singing and dancing filled the streets of Bujumbura a day after Bob Rugurika, director of the popular independent African Public Radio was released on bail.
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 were celebrations for Burundi’s first elected president 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 accused the government of sidelining political challengers ahead of elections in May and June, including arrests, harassment and a clampdown on free speech.
“I have no words to thank the Burundian population,” Rugurika said in radio broadcast, after entering the capital followed by supporters crammed into dozens of cars and hundreds on motorbikes. “Thanks to your support, your commitment, I’m free at last.”