December 8, 2015 / 4:58 PM / in 2 years

Nearly 100 protesters released from Burundi prison

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Nearly 100 Burundian protesters who opposed President Pierre Nkurunziza during months of violence in the capital Bujumbura have been released from prison, officials said on Tuesday, as the government held aid talks with European Union officials.

Burundi, which emerged from a 12-year civil war a decade ago, began spiraling into chaos in April when Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term, causing months of protests in Bujumbura and a failed coup.

Bujumbura has been holding talks with European Union officials about whether the tiny East African nation can continue benefiting from EU aid after arresting hundreds of protesters, shuttering private media houses and closing bank accounts of non-governmental organizations (NGOs).

Deo Ruberintwari, the Interior Ministry’s permanent secretary, said the release of 97 prisoners “has no connection with the consultations under way”.

Activists and human rights groups say many of the protesters were young men who were beaten while in prison, something officials deny.

Philippe Nzobonariba, the government spokesman, said media and other organizations were closed for criminality and there was evidence a failed coup in May was financed through bank accounts of NGOs.

Nzobonariba said he expected Burundi and EU countries to come up with an agreement for vital aid flows to continue.

The United States last week warned Burundi was on the brink of civil war and will need regional mediation to establish a peace process between the government and opposition to avert a new conflict.

Regional efforts to cool Burundi’s crisis have stumbled, despite calls by the African Union and regional East African states for dialogue.

Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Janet Lawrence

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