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BUJUMBURA, Burundi – Violence hit Burundi's capital again on Thursday and one man in particular narrowly escaped being killed by a mob, and he had to dive into a sewer to survive.
The mob, angry at attacks by the Imbonerakure on those protesting the decision by Burundi's president to run for a third term decided to retaliate. The Imbonerakure is the youth wing of the ruling party and has been widely accused of blatant human rights abuses, including murder.
The crowd walked the streets of a neighborhood, telling people to join the protest or else. Some joined; a few ran away. They reached the house of a man identified as Jean Claude Niyonzima.
They grabbed him and started attacking him with sticks and stones. Some protesters had knives and machetes, but apparently did not use them.
Niyonzima kept trying to escape. He was chased through a courtyard and found himself cornered between two buildings. Bleeding from his head, he begged for his life. Members of the crowd were asking him questions, as if it were an interrogation. He squeezed through his attackers but the mob kept chasing him around his yard as women cried and begged for them to show mercy.
He finally got away and fled into the wide sewer under a hail of stones, and he sought shelter under a boarded section. Members of the crowd prepared to go in after him when soldiers, who have been acting as a buffer between protesters and the police for days, showed up. Niyonzima emerged, his hands together in front of him in a beseeching gesture as he asked the rifle-toting soldiers for help. The soldiers fired shots into the air to disperse the crowd and pulled Niyonzima out of the sewer.
Shirtless, he sat on the ground next to a wall under the soldiers' protection.
The crowd went in search of another member of the Imbonerakure. They found another man and beat him to the point of semiconsciousness.
Burundi's defense minister, Maj. Gen. Pontien Gaciyubwenge, said last weekend that the army should remain neutral and urged "all political actors" to avoid violence.