Two demonstrators were shot dead in clashes with police in Burundi’s capital today, witnesses said, as protests escalated over the president’s bid for a controversial third term.
Clashes erupted in several parts of Bujumbura a day after the ruling CNDD-FDD party, which has been accused of intimidating opponents, designated President Pierre Nkurunziza as its candidate for the June 26 presidential election.
Opposition figures and rights groups say the president’s effort to cling to power is unconstitutional.
There are fears the worsening crisis could plunge the Great Lakes nation — which only emerged from a long and bloody civil war in 2006 — back into violence.
Independent witnesses said one person was shot dead in the capital’s Ngagara district and another in Musaga after police used live ammunition to disperse crowds, who defied a government ban to demonstrate, despite warnings that the army could be called out.
Fired real bullets
“We had called for peaceful protests and that is what happened, but the police and ruling party militia fired real bullets at the protesters,” said Frodebu Leonce Ngendakumana, an opposition leader.
Local media reports added that several people had been wounded, including several police hurt while trying to prevent thousands of demonstrators marching on the city centre.
Dozens of people had been arrested, witnesses told AFP, with police using tear gas, water cannons and batons against the stone-throwing protesters.
Burundi’s Interior Minister Edouard Nduwimana condemned what he said were “uprisings called for by certain politicians and civil society”.
Authorities also cut transmissions outside of the capital by the country’s three main independent radio stations, including the independent and influential African Public Radio (RPA), which has for months been reporting on government intimidation of opponents.
“The government says we are inciting people to rise up by reporting live from the protests,” said Patrick Nduwimana, head of a grouping of Burundian broadcasters.
He told AFP the move was “a serious violation of the right to information”.
Tensions in Burundi have been mounting for months as Nkurunziza — a former rebel leader, born-again Christian and football fanatic who has been president since 2005 — lays the ground for a third term.
Opposition groups, who boycotted the last elections in 2010 over allegations of fraud, say his re-election bid violates the constitution as well as the peace deal that ended the civil war.
The influential Catholic Church has also spoken out against the president’s plans to stay put, while UN rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein has warned that the country is at a “crossroads” between a fair vote and a route back to its “horrendously violent past”.
On Saturday, Washington condemned Nkurunziza’s candidacy and warned the country was “losing an historic opportunity to strengthen its democracy”.
“We specifically call on the Burundian government to respect the rights of all peaceful political parties and their candidates to campaign, hold meetings and rallies and express their views,” the State Department said.