Burundians celebrate as journalist Bob Rugurika freed

Published
image copyrightAFP
image captionBurundi has seen two days of spontaneous protests in support of the journalist

Thousands of people have taken to the streets of Burundi's capital Bujumbura to celebrate the release of a prominent journalist controversially charged with the murder of three Italian nuns.

Crowds sang and danced after Bob Rugurika entered the city on Thursday after being freed on bail.

Such huge demonstrations in defiance of the government are rare in Burundi.

It will now be under further pressure to properly investigate the murder of the nuns, observers say.

Lucia Pulici, 75, Olga Raschietti, 82, and Bernadetta Boggian, 79 were killed at their convent in Bujumbura in September.

'Free at last'

Mr Rugurika was arrested about a month ago after his station, African Public Radio (RPA), broadcast the purported confession of a man claiming to be one of the killers.

It was also alleged that the man was acting on the orders of senior intelligence officials - an allegation denied by the government.

image copyrightAFP
image captionSuch huge demonstrations are rare in Burundi
image copyrightAFP
image captionPeople flocked to the radio station after news of the court's decision broke

The authorities then charged Mr Rugurika with complicity in the murders, "breach of public solidarity" and disclosing confidential information about the case.

His arrest sparked outrage among many Burundians and rights campaigners.

Hundreds of people crammed into dozens of cars and motorbikes followed Mr Rugurika when he drove into the city after bring released from a prison some 50km (30 miles) away, AFP news agency reports.

I have no words to thank the Burundian population," Mr Rugurika said in a radio broadcast.

"Thanks to your support, your commitment... I'm free at last."

image copyrightAFP
image captionOlga Raschietti was among the nuns killed

BBC Burundi analyst Prime Ndikumagenge said spontaneous demonstrations also broke out on Wednesday when the court ordered Mr Rugurika's release on bail, set at around $9,500 (£6,000).

The protests suggest that people are angry with the government, and this will worry it ahead of parliamentary and presidential elections due in May and June, he says.

People are also demanding an independent investigation into claims and counter-claims over the killing of the nuns, our reporter says.

One allegation is that the nuns were murdered after they became aware of illegal military training received by government supporters.

However, when the nuns' bodies were discovered last year, the Italian Catholic diocese of Parma said the deaths appeared to have been "the tragic outcome of an armed robbery by a mentally unbalanced person".

Burundi, one of the world's poorest nations, has been struggling to overcome the legacy of a 12-year civil war between rival ethnic groups.

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