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East African leaders will meet on Sunday to discuss the crisis in Burundi as violent clashes between police and anti-government protesters continue and the opposition has boycotted talks to resolve the stand-off. Rights groups say at least 20 people have been killed by police since protests erupted in late April against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office. An opposition leader was killed on Saturday.
Police fired toward protesters and gunfire was heard in several parts of the capital Bujumbura on Tuesday, a Reuters witness said. Many roads are blocked and businesses closed. The Reuters witness saw a dead body in the flashpoint district of Cibitoke in the early evening, when gunfire was heard in the area, but no details on the incident were immediately available.
Members of the military attempted a coup on May 13 while Nkurunziza was abroad at the last East African Community (EAC) summit, aimed at ending the row over his plan to stand again. The putsch failed but protests have rumbled on. The EAC said on Twitter late on Monday that another leaders’ summit would be held in Dar es Salaam on Sunday, with ministers meeting on Saturday. Nkurunziza’s office said it was unclear if the president would attend.
“It’s too soon to know, but Burundi will be represented, that is for sure,” said presidential spokesman Gervais Abayeho. Nkurunziza’s decision to try for a third term unleashed Burundi’s worst political crisis since a civil war ended in 2005. Many people fear the violence could lead to renewed ethnic bloodletting between the Hutu and Tutsi communities.
Some 800,000 people were killed in a 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda, which has a similar ethnic make-up. The current unrest has prompted around 70,000 Burundians to flee abroad, according to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR. Critics say Nkurunziza’s bid violates the constitution. The president’s supporters disagree, and say a constitutional court ruling allows him to run.
“I can’t go to work and I don’t know how to get to the office as policemen are shooting,” said Claude, a resident of the capital’s Buyenzi district who declined to give his full name. Jacqueline, who lives in the Cibitoke area, added: “Two grenade explosions were heard at dawn but we don’t know about casualties yet.”
The presidency on Tuesday said Nkurunziza had signed a decree on May 21 for the elections to be financed by increasing the country’s deficit and trimming the budgets of the education, health and seven other ministries. About 44 billion francs ($28 million) need to be found to fund the elections, the document states. Domestic debt will be increased by 28 billion francs, while 14 billion francs will be raised from ministry savings. Another one billion should be saved from what the document calls “other products”.
The government also put out a statement on Tuesday asking “patriotic citizens” to contribute money to a special account at the central bank to finance the election.