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Burundi protesters defy police crackdown


burundi protestAnti-government protesters in Burundi marched on the streets of the capital Bujumbura Friday, defying one of the heaviest pushes by police to end weeks of demonstrations.

At least two protesters were shot dead and eight wounded in clashes on Thursday with police, the Red Cross said, the latest victims of the unrest triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term, in which more than 20 people have died.

Heavy gunfire was heard all day Thursday in suburbs of the capital, with intense bursts of automatic weapons, as protesters in reply hurled rocks from makeshift barricades. Clashes largely calmed overnight.

The crisis, which began in late April after the ruling party nominated Nkurunziza to stand again in the June 26 presidential election, deepened last week when a top general staged a failed coup attempt.

On Friday morning, protesters in the city’s Cibitoke district shouted and blew whistles to try to encourage others to come out onto the streets, while in the neighbouring district of Mutakura, around 100 protesters did the same.

“We try to bring people together, then we will go to neighbouring districts,” said one protester.

An AFP journalist was denied entry by the police into Musaga, a flashpoint district that has seen some of the worst violence.

“It’s for your safety,” a policeman said, claiming to have been ordered to block journalists’ access to the area.

“There are a lot of police on the streets to terrorise us,” said Steve, a protester.

Nkurunziza said in an address to the nation late Wednesday that most of the central African country was secure and that the upcoming parliamentary and presidential votes would be peaceful.

Police officers were stationed at the entrance of each neighbourhood, where barricades set up the day before had been cleared.

Opposition and rights groups say that Nkurunziza’s bid for a third five-year term violates the constitution and the terms of a peace deal that ended a 13-year civil war in 2006.

Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader and born-again Christian who believes he has divine backing to lead, argues that his first term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people.

Four key private radio stations were attacked and closed during the coup bid after broadcasting messages from coup leaders, and there is now virtually no independent media in the country, with government broadcasts relaying presidential messages.

Innocent Muhozi, who heads Renaissance television and radio, one of the stations attacked, was summoned to appear in court Friday for “investigation purposes.”

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