Two police officers were killed ahead of voting in a contentious presidential election in Burundi in which incumbent Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term has triggered a crisis in the country.
Willy Nyamitwe, a presidential adviser, said today that one policeman was shot dead in the Mutakura area of the capital Bujumbura and another in the outskirts of the city last night when explosions and gunfire rang out in opposition strongholds.
The body of an opposition official was earlier found on the roadside in another suburb, bringing the death toll to three.
The opposition and the government blame each other for the overnight violence.
Opponents say Mr Nkurunziza must go because the constitution limits the president to two terms.
Burundi has been rocked by unrest since April when Mr Nkurunziza announced he would run for a third term.
More than 100 people have died in street protests against the president’s bid to extend his time in power. The strife triggered an attempted military coup in mid-May that was quickly put down by pro-Nkurunziza forces.
With some of the opposition boycotting the election and others saying they were not allowed to campaign, Mr Nkurunziza, 51, is not facing a strong electoral challenge.
Among the few people who voted in opposition areas of the capital, many tried to wipe off the indelible ink on their fingers fearing reprisals from opposition supporters.
Unlike the capital city, a high turnout was reported in Mr Nkurunziza’s hometown of Ngozi in northern Burundi where the president voted at Buye Fondamental School polling centre.
“These elections prove that democracy is improving in Burundi,” Mr Nkurunziza said after casting his ballot.
Many fear that the presidential polls may provoke widespread violence. Since independence from Belgium in 1961, Burundi has had four coups and a civil war that left an estimated 250,000 dead.
The UN says at least 170,000 refugees have fled the country fearing electoral violence.
Mr Nkurunziza’s critics including his second vice-president, the deputy president of the Constitutional Court and the vice-chairwoman of the electoral commission are among dozens who have gone to exile alleging death threats.
The president’s supporters say he is eligible for a third term because he was chosen by politicians – and not popularly elected – for his first term in 2005.