By Goran Tomasevic and Patrick Nduwimana
BUJUMBURA – Heavy gunfire was heard as police fired teargas at protesters throwing stones in a suburb of Burundi’s capital on Tuesday during a demonstration against president’s bid for a third term, Reuters witnesses said.
It was not immediately clear who fired the shots during clashes in Butarere district, where hundreds of protesters had gathered, saying Pierre Nkurunziza’s third election run violated the constitution and a peace deal that ended civil war in 2005.
Protesters grabbed one policewoman and beat her up, accusing her of firing at them, a Reuters witness said. She was later released, after sustaining injuries.
During more than two weeks of protests that have plunged the nation into a crisis, police have fired in the air and have been seen shooting in the direction of protesters. Police deny shooting any demonstrators. At least 19 people have been killed.
The violence has drawn strong rebukes from Western donors, on whom Burundi depends to finance much of its budget. The United States, which provides support to the army, has demanded police stop using “violent force” against protesters.
East African leaders, including Nkurunziza, will meet in Tanzania on Wednesday to discuss the crisis and rising tensions in a region with a history of ethnic conflict. More than 50,000 people have fled Burundi to neighbouring states seeking safety.
Protesters in Butarere, one of the suburbs of the capital where there have been frequent rallies, had built barricades in the roads, using stones and burning tyres. Local media said they had tried to block the airport road but police stopped them.
Nkurunziza has said he would press on with his election bid, although the United States, other Western nations and several African countries have urged him not to run.