A riot police officer sprays teargas on residents participating in street protests against the decision made by Burundi’s ruling party to allow President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a third five-year term, in the capital Bujumbura, April 26, 2015.
Police in Burundi’s capital, Bujumbura, clashed Sunday with protesters demonstrating against President Pierre Nkurunziza, who is seeking a controversial third term, killing two people, the Red Cross said Sunday.
Clashes erupted in several parts of the capital, Bujumbura, as police fired tear gas to break up crowds and prevent them from entering the city’s center.
“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.
Witnesses said several people were wounded while dozens of others were arrested. The government banned any demonstrations about the ruling CNDD-FDD party’s nomination of Nkurunziza for a third term.
Police had no immediate comment on casualties, according to Reuters.
Nkurunziza’s eligibility comes down to a legal argument about the wording of a formative peace agreement and the country’s constitution.
Burundi’s existing political structures were founded on the 2000 Arusha agreement, which brought to an end the civil war between Hutu and Tutsi factions that killed up to 300,000 people. That agreement said the president could serve no more than two terms in office.
But, the 2005 constitution states the president must be elected through “universal direct suffrage” – interpreted to mean a popular vote.
Nkurunziza was elected by parliament to his first term, so his supporters argue he is eligible to run again.
There is concern in Burundi that Nkurunziza’s ambitions for the constitutionally questionable third term in office could reignite violence in a country still regaining its footing after years of civil war.
Nkurunziza has faced revolt from within his own party over his presumed candidacy. Seventy-nine members of the ruling party wrote the president last month, asking him not to seek office.
The influential Catholic Church in Burundi also has joined the growing chorus of civil society and opposition groups urging Nkurunziza not to run.
Accusations of silencing opposition
His government has been under fire from rights groups and the international community for excluding the opposition and silencing voices of dissent.
Rights groups have accused the ruling party of arming its youth wing, known as the Imbonerakure, and using them to attack opponents in the past.
Human Rights Watch last month said members of the group assisted the police and military in executing 47 people following a confrontation with an unnamed armed group in northwestern Cibitoke province.
Jean Claude Nkundwa, a peace activist in Bujumbura, said he fears that armed groups could be exploited to keep the president in power.
The international community, including the United Nations, the United States and the African Union have urged Burundian political actors to respect the rule of law and hold fair elections, without much weighing into the debate about whether the president has the legal authority to run.
United Nations and Rwandan officials said just over 17,000 Burundians have fled into neighboring 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.
Nkundwa is urging foreign partners to be prepared to intervene if necessary.