Burundi cops clash with Catholics - 6 die

2013-03-12 20:09

Bujumburu - Burundi police clashed Tuesday with Catholic followers of a woman who claims to see visions of the Virgin Mary, leaving at least six people dead and 35 wounded, a regional governor said.

Violence broke out at dawn after hundreds of followers of 30-year-old Zebiya were blocked by police as they tried to gather on a hilltop that has become a place of pilgrimage, officials said.

"There were violent clashes," said Athanase Mbonabuca, governor of Burundi's northern Kayanza region, adding that followers of Zebiya were "armed with clubs and stones".

"At least six people are dead and 35 wounded, including 20," he said. The dead were all believed to be from the sect.

At least four policemen were seriously injured, he said.

Zebiya has reportedly seen visions on the hill on the 12th day of each month.

Hundreds of her followers were arrested, the regional governor said.

Interior Minister Edouard Nduwimana confirmed this version of events.

However one of the worshippers told AFP by telephone that the group largely consisted of elderly women who did not carry weapons and "who had only wanted to pray".

Relations between Zebiya, her followers and the Catholic church in the small central African nation have deteriorated in recent months.

In December police destroyed a cross erected on the hill and deployed officers to ensure followers do not return. Dozens have been wounded in previous clashes.