Two killed in street battles in Burundi

Bujumbura - Street battles and gunfire erupted  again on Thursday as protesters against President Pierre Nkurunziza rejected his calls for calm in Burundi, an ethnic tinderbox with a history of civil war and genocide.

The Burundi Red Cross said two protesters were killed as soldiers and police fired tear gas and shots in the air in confrontations with scores of young men throwing rocks and burning makeshift barricades in the roads.

That brings to 20 the number of deaths witnessed by the aid group, spokesperson Alexis Manirakiza said, during almost a month of marches and a failed coup by Burundians trying to stop Nkurunziza securing what they say is an unconstitutional third term in office.

Civil war

Another emergency official said the overall toll in the violence, which many fear might re-open old wounds between Burundi's Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups, could be double that.

Nkurunziza, 51, a former sports lecturer, appears unfazed by the crisis, playing in a soccer match with friends on Wednesday shortly before making a televised address to the nation.

In the speech, he stressed the need for national unity, saying Burundi's bloody past, including a civil war that ended in 2005 after the deaths of more than 300 000 people, could not be ignored.

"No Burundian wants to revive the tensions of ethnic division or any other nature," Nkurunziza, who has mixed Hutu-Tutsi parentage, said. "The blood that was spilt in the past has taught us a lesson."

Protesters rejected his words.

"We don't consider this a speech for the nation," said 42-year-old Jean-Claude Gakiza.

"Someone who violates the constitution is against Burundians. All we want now is that he gives up his third term."

Little effect

In another area, there were chaotic scenes as soldiers and police tried to restore order.

"You cannot throw stones at police," one soldier told the protesters. "We are near them. You will hurt us."

Thursday's violence followed a night of heavy gunfire in the restive neighbourhood of Musaga, where residents spoke of hours of running battles between police and gangs of youths.

With more than 110 000 refugees in neighbouring Rwanda, Democratic Republic of Congo and Tanzania, where at least 33 have died of cholera, regional leaders have been calling for calm and restraint on all sides but to little effect.

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