Police in Burundi shot dead at least three demonstrators and wounded dozens of others Monday, in running battles with protesters angry at a bid by President Pierre Nkurunziza to extend his rule.
The deaths, confirmed by Burundi's Red Cross, takes the total killed in more than a week of protests to at least 12 people, including two soldiers and a policeman.
The small central African country has been rocked by violent protests since the ruling CNDD-FDD party designated Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader and born-again Christian from the Hutu majority, as its candidate in presidential elections due to be held on June 26.
An AFP reporter saw at least eight people with bullet wounds, with the Red Cross saying 46 were wounded. The police also fired tear gas and hurled stun grenades in a bid to disperse the crowds.
"I am killed by Nkurunziza!" one screamed, as he was taken to hospital with bullet wound in his shoulder.
Witnesses reported other protesters were shot, with police apparently giving no warning before opening fire. Officers were also wounded by rocks thrown by protesters, and police said three colleagues were injured by a grenade.
Following two days of truce over the weekend, hundreds of protesters gathered in a suburb of the capital Bujumbura Monday, shouting at police, who have for days blocked roads in a bid to prevent demonstrators from moving into the centre of the city.
Nkurunziza has been in power since 2005. His supporters, however, say he is eligible to run again, since his first term in office followed his election by parliament — not directly by the people as the constitution specifies.
Since the protests started, the army has regularly come between the police and demonstrators to avoid further clashes and the protesters believe the soldiers are neutral.
Scores have been wounded since the protests began last weekend. Nearly 600 people have also been arrested, according to police.
"We have two camps fixed in their positions — and no one is willing to back down," said a foreign diplomat, declining to be named.
The government linked a grenade attack that killed three people, including two police officers, in the early hours of Saturday to the opposition protests and branded the demonstrators "enemies of the state".
It has also vowed a major crackdown, with the security minister saying the police will do everything to stop an uprising.
However, Nkurunziza's bid to hold on to power has both supporters and opponents within the security services, according to the diplomat.
On Sunday, the army's chief of staff General Prime Niyongabo said the military "remains and will remain a republican and loyalist army that is respectful of the laws and rules of Burundi and of those who govern it".
But a statement by Defence Minister General Pontien Gaciyubwenge on Saturday declaring the army's neutrality and calling for an end to attacks on citizens' rights appeared to flag up possible divisions in the army.