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Burundi ‘joggers’ jailed for life








MSD leader Alexis Sinduhije addressing a crowd in Burundi on 11 April 2010MSD leader Alexis Sinduhije (pictured in 2010) has been charged over the clashes but has not been caught


A court in Burundi has sentenced 21 opposition supporters to life in prison for participating in an illegal demonstration that turned violent.

Another 26 Movement for Solidarity and Democracy (MSD) supporters were given lighter terms of between two and 10 years in jail.

They denied participating in a march and say they were out jogging when a police crackdown began.

The authorities have since restricted jogging clubs to certain areas.

All sports must now take place in nine parks in the capital, Bujumbura, and other designated football pitches, it was announced earlier this week.

The BBC’s Prime Ndikumagenge in Burundi says jogging is a national pastime on weekend mornings, with hundreds of people out running or taking a walk.


‘Insurrection’


Map

In Burundi, permission must be sought from the authorities to hold a political march or public gathering.

Police say they had intelligence that sporting activities were going to be used as a front to organise illegal demonstrations.

On Saturday 8 March, officers were deployed in the city to prevent this happening.

But the situation deteriorated into clashes and some of the joggers tried to seek refuge in the MSD headquarters, taking two policemen hostage.

Several people were injured in the fracas and afterwards about 70 MSD supporters were arrested with 48 facing life sentences for insurrection.

MSD leader Alexis Sinduhije was also charged over the clashes, but has not been caught.

Those found guilty on Friday are to appeal against their sentences.

The court in Bujumbura also acquitted 22 of defendants.

Presidential elections in Burundi, one of the world’s poorest countries, are due next year.

They will be the third held in the small East African nation since a 2003 deal to end a long ethnic-based civil war in which an estimated 300,000 people died.

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