May 4, 2015 / 9:44 AM / 3 years ago

Three reported killed in unrest over Burundi president's vote bid

BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - Three protesters were killed in Burundi’s capital on Monday, the Red Cross said, as demonstrations against a decision by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s to seek a third term in office ran into a second week.

Protestors chant anti-government slogans as they clash with riot police during a protest against Burundi's ruling party's decision to allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a third five-year term in office, in the capital Bujumbura, April 27, 2015. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Police in the Musaga district of Bujumbura fired shots toward lines of protesters who were hurling stones, a Reuters witness said. An explosion also wounded at least two officers.

U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told a news conference in Nairobi the decision to seek a third term “flies directly in the face” of the constitution. Nkurunziza, he said, should pay heed to public concern.

Police spokesman Liboire Bakunduwukize denied two protesters were 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.

Hundreds more rallied elsewhere in the capital, called out by civil society groups who argue that under a peace agreement that ended a civil war, Nkurunziza could not serve another term.

Red Cross spokesman Alexis Manirakiza said three protesters had been killed and 35 wounded. Prominent activist Pierre Claver Mbonimpa said some had bullet wounds.

“Please, Nkurunziza, give up the third term so that peace returns in the country,” demonstrators shouted in the Kinindo suburb, where dozens had gathered early in the morning.

Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader during an ethnically fueled civil war that ended in 2005, has called the protests an “insurrectional movement” and warned of tough steps against those behind the demonstrations.

Civil society groups have said at least 12 people have been killed during the protests. Police put the number at six, including three members of the security forces.

The unrest has plunged the east African nation into its worst political crisis since the conflict that pitted majority Hutus against minority Tutsis ended, reviving ethnic tensions in a region where other presidents will soon face term limits.

Protests erupted on April 26, the day after the president announced he would run in the June 26 presidential vote. Candidate registration runs until May 9.

The constitution and the Arusha peace agreement that ended the civil war set a two-term limit. Nkurunziza’s supporters say his first term does not count because he was picked by parliament in 2005 and not elected by popular vote.

The army has been deployed to restore calm. Once led by Tutsis, it is now a mixed force and is seen as neutral.

Police have barred protesters from central Bujumbura. On Monday, police officers fired shots in the air to disperse a small group of demonstrators that had gathered on a street leading to the central square, Place de l‘Independence.

Fearing violence, around 24,000 people have fled to neighboring Rwanda and 7,000 to the Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Twitter.

Additional reporting by Lesley Wroughton and Edith Honan in Nairobi; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by Andrew Heavens by John Stonestreet

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