By Patrick Nduwimana
BUJUMBURA (Reuters) – Burundian police shot dead two protesters and wounded at least one other on Sunday, the Red Cross said, in demonstrations against the president seeking a third term which critics say would violate a constitutional limit of two terms.
Witnesses said police used water cannon, tear gas and in some cases live bullets to disperse demonstrators across Bujumbura. The authorities earlier banned all protests either for or against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s renewed candidacy.
African leaders and Western nations have urged Nkurunziza not to run again, and the United States and the European Union have indicated they could take punitive steps if violence erupted as a result.
“We counted two protesters killed by police, four others were injured and one is in coma in hospital after being hit by a bullet,” Alexis Manirakiza, Burundi Red Cross spokesman told Reuters.
Police had no immediate comment on the casualties.
Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FDD party nominated Nkurunziza as its presidential candidate on Saturday. Those opposed say this not only violates the constitution, which limits leaders to two terms in office, but also goes against the spirit of a 2000 peace deal that has kept Burundi calm for a decade since a civil war between ethnic Hutus and Tutsis ended in 2005.
United Nations and Rwandan officials say just over 17,000 Burundians have fled into neighbouring Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo since mid-March due to rising fear of violence in the run-up to the June 26 presidential election.
Interior Minister Edouard Nduwimana said on Sunday that the demonstrations were illegal.
“We have asked whoever is against the third term to follow legal procedures. Only the constitutional court can judge if Nkurunziza has the right to run or not,” he told Reuters.
Dlamini Zuma, chairwoman of the African Union Commission, urged the Burundian government to practice restraint.
“Political actors must use appropriate channels to seek redress in grievances, including disputes on elections. Violence begets violence,” she said on her Twitter feed.
A Reuters witness said the interior minister and the minister in charge of security joined police in forcing their way into the premises of private radio station RPA.
At first they threatened to shut the station down, accusing staff of inciting people to revolt, but then ordered them to stop airing any live material from the protests.
Protests began in four suburbs of the capital and by late afternoon had subsided in three, but a protest in the district of Musaga remained intense, with police attempting to disperse it using water cannon, the Reuters witness said.
Nkurunziza’s supporters say his first term should not count because he was chosen by parliament rather than by a popular vote.