Bujumbura (Burundi) (AFP) – Six people including a policeman were killed in gun battles Wednesday in the latest violence in Burundi, as it awaits results from elections boycotted by the opposition and condemned internationally.
Clashes broke out in the capital’s Cibitoke district, an opposition area that has been one of the heartlands of protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s defiant bid for a third term.
More than 70 people have been killed in two months of protests and a failed coup attempt sparked by the president’s bid, with almost 144,000 refugees fleeing into neighbouring nations.
Five of those killed Wednesday were members of an armed group who were “neutralized”, police said, adding that they had seized weapons, including a rifle and a rocket-propelled grenade.
The Cibitoke suburb was sealed off on Wednesday by security forces, an AFP photographer said, and it was not possible to independently confirm police reports.
The clashes took place after three grenades were thrown at a police patrol, injuring two officers, a police official said speaking on condition of anonymity.
Those fleeing the district said police were carrying out house-to-house searches for guns.
“We’re going because we are afraid, the police are entering houses, they say they are looking for weapons”, said Diane, fleeing with her young family including a young baby. “We do not know where we’re going now… all we took was the baby’s bottle.”
– Independence day military parades –
On polling day Monday, some voting stations were also attacked by grenades, according to the police.
The election commission claimed an “enormous” turnout in the local and general elections, despite many polling stations appearing quiet.
Vote counting has been completed at a local level, the election commission has said, but it remains unclear when final results would be announced. The ruling party is expected to win a sweeping victory.
A combative Nkurunziza late Tuesday asked the international community “to respect our independence”, adding that the elections “had passed off very well”.
Elsewhere in the capital Wednesday, military parades were held to mark the country’s independence day, with tight security around the president and bullet-proof glass around the podium.
Almost four million people were registered to vote on Monday, but the opposition boycotted the polls, as they did in the last elections in 2010, claiming it was not possible to hold a fair vote given the climate of tensions.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon earlier called for the voting to be delayed, as Burundi struggles through its worst crisis since the end of its civil war nine years ago.
The European Union warned the polls would “only exacerbate the profound crisis”, while former colonial power Belgium said the polls were not credible and could “further divide the country”.
Monday’s polls kickstarted a series of elections, with presidential polls due on July 15 followed by senatorial elections on July 24.
Opponents say Nkurunziza’s bid for another term is unconstitutional and violates a peace accord that paved the way for the end of 13 years of civil war in 2006.
Civil society groups backed the boycott in a joint statement calling on voters to skip the “sham elections”.
The African Union refused to send observers as it was not possible to hold “free, fair, transparent and credible elections”.
Opposition leader Charles Nditije said the polls were “a parody of elections”.
Several top officials — including a deputy vice-president as well as members of the election commission and constitutional court — have already fled the poverty-stricken, landlocked country.
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