Burundi Police Clash with Protestors Opposing Presidential Third Term
Police in Burundi on Friday fired tear gas and water cannon to disperse protesters calling for the president not to run for a third term, as tensions rise in the central African state.
Opposition parties are concerned at incumbent President Pierre Nkurunziza's expected bid for a third term in June elections, despite the constitution stating a president can only be elected twice.
Around a thousand opposition activists attempted to gather in the centre of the capital Bujumbura, but police blocked their path, briefly detaining several.
Some protestors threw stones to which the police responded with tear gas and water cannon, eventually restoring calm.
At least two policemen were injured in the clashes.
Chauvineau Mugwengezo, president of the opposition UPD party, criticized the security clampdown and called for more demonstrations.
"We will continue until Pierre Nkurunziza gives up plans to violate the constitution," he said.
Deputy police chief Godefroid Bizimana said the rally had not received prior authorization and that the police were just "doing their job".
Burundi, a small landlocked nation in Africa's Great Lakes region, emerged in 2006 from a brutal 13-year civil war.
In May, voters will go to the polls to elect a new parliament, with the presidential vote following a month later.
Nkurunziza has not yet confirmed whether he intends to attempt to try stay in power.
U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein on Wednesday warned that the country was at a "crossroads" between a fair vote that would boost the country and a route back to its "horrendously violent past".
More than 8,000 Burundians have fled in the past two weeks to neighboring Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.N. refugee agency said Friday.
UNHCR expressed concern that the numbers of refugees could swell "with more political tension rising and more acts of violence being reported."
Many are fleeing threats by the pro-government militia Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party.
Zeid said that the "dangerous" Imbonerakure "appears to be operating increasingly aggressively and with total impunity," as he called for the government to clamp down on its activities.
The International Crisis Group on Friday called the elections "decisive", warning in a new report that "tension is rising and prospects for free and fair polls are slimmer" by the day.
"Popular protests and the precedent set by the fall of Burkina Faso's president suggest street confrontations will take place if President Nkurunziza decides to impose his candidacy," the ICG think tank warned.
"The opposition wants revenge after its defeat in the 2010 polls, but it remains uncertain if its leaders will be allowed to contest the elections," it added.