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Burundi: Riot police, protesters clash for 3rd day

28 April 2015, 13:32

Bujumbura - Protesters in Burundi clashed with police for a third day on Tuesday in fresh demonstrations against the president's bid to cling to power for a third term, witnesses said.

At least five people have died since clashes broke out on Sunday after the ruling CNDD-FDD party, which has been accused of intimidating opponents, designated President Pierre Nkurunziza its candidate in the June 26 presidential election.

"It will continue," said Jonathan, a 26-year old unemployed protester, saying that the problem is not that Nkurunziza had been in power for too long but that "he goes against the law".

An AFP reporter said there was a heavy police presence across the capital Bujumbura, with crowds of a few hundred people broken up soon after they gathered and blocked from heading to the city centre.

The government has banned all protests and deployed large numbers of police and troops onto the streets, firing tear gas and water cannons, with hundreds of stone-throwing protesters arrested. Some of those killed were shot at close range.

The president, a former rebel leader and born-again Christian, has been in power since 2005. Opposition figures and rights groups say his attempt to stay in power goes against the constitution as well as the peace deal that ended a civil war in 2006.

Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the 13-year conflict, and there are fears the upsurge in political tensions could plunge the country back into violence.

But his supporters say he is eligible to run again, as his first term in office was after he was elected by parliament - not directly by the people as the constitution states.

Dissident held

On Monday, authorities arrested a leading dissident, human rights activist Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, and shut down the main independent radio station.

Mbonimpa's lawyer, Armel Niyongere, said he believed "the arrest is linked to his call for demonstrations".

An arrest warrant has also been issued for Vital Nshimirimana, head of a prominent NGO forum, who has gone into hiding and who told AFP that protests would continue. Police have also confirmed the arrest of 320 demonstrators.

At least 15 000 Burundians have fled the country to neighbouring Rwanda in recent weeks, according to the UN refugee agency, which has warned that those numbers could rise.

Many are fleeing threats by the pro-government militia Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling party. Rights groups allege that the militia has been armed and trained over the past year in order to help Nkurunziza remain in office.

The European Union said violence, arrests of human rights activists, restrictions on the media and an outflow of people into neighbouring countries had no place in an electoral process.

The US embassy in Bujumbura said it was also watching the situation closely and warned it would "hold accountable those responsible for violence against the civilian population".

After Sunday's protest deaths, the African Union appealed to Burundi's government to "exercise the highest restraint and protect the population".

The influential Catholic Church has also spoken out against the president's plans to stay put.

The UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein warned recently the country was at a "crossroads" between a fair vote and a route back to its "horrendously violent past".



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