At least one protester was shot dead on the streets of the Burundi capital Bujumbura on Monday as demonstrations against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term in office ran into a second week.
FRANCE 24’s correspondent in Bujumbura, Thaïs Brouck, reported seeing the body of a protester in the suburb of Musaga after police began firing live rounds on the demonstrators.
Activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, a veteran member of the civil society groups which called the rallies, said at least two protesters had been killed by police gunfire while the Red Cross said three people had died and 35 wounded.
An AFP reporter saw at least eight people with bullet wounds after running battles with the police, who also fired tear gas and hurled stun grenades in a bid to disperse the crowds.
Witnesses reported other protestors were shot, with police apparently giving no warning before opening fire. Officers were also wounded by rocks thrown by protestors.
Police spokesman Liboire Bakunduwukize denied protesters had been killed and said 15 police were wounded by a hand grenade.
“Today, tomorrow or the day after, wherever they will hurl grenades or wherever they will shoot, the police has a right to throw a grenade as well and even to shoot back and that’s how it will be,” he told reporters at a hospital.
Burundi has been rocked by a series of violent protests after 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.
Following two days of truce over the weekend, a few hundred protesters gathered in a suburb of the capital Bujumbura Monday, shouting at police, who have for days blocked roads to prevent demonstrators from moving into the centre of the city.
"I am killed by Nkurunziza!" one screamed, as he was taken to hospital with bullet wound in his shoulder.
One group, however, broke through and reached the centre, the first time they have managed to do so since protests began, but were chased out by police.
The constitution and the Arusha peace agreement that ended the civil war set a two-term limit for presidents. Nkurunziza’s supporters say his first term does not count because he was picked by parliament in 2005 and not elected by popular vote.
US Secretary of State John Kerry told a news conference in Nairobi Monday the decision to seek a third term “flies directly in the face” of the constitution. Nkurunziza, he said, should pay heed to public concern.
Tensions within army
"Let us through!" demonstrators shouted, as soldiers sought to ease tensions between the police and demonstrators.
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.
Six people had died in the unrest before Monday’s clashes, according to the police, including at least two policemen and one soldier. Civil society groups had put the toll at least nine.
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 diplomat.
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 this uprising".
However, Nkurunziza's bid to hold on to power has both supporters and opponents within the security services.
"There are some pretty serious differences within the security forces," added the diplomat.
On Sunday, the army's chief of staff pledged the military's loyalty to the country's authorities after the defence minister had declared the army's neutrality.
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.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)
Date created : 2015-05-04