Burundi police clash with opposition members, 15 injured

by Reuters
Sunday, 9 March 2014 16:39 GMT

BUJUMBURA, March 9 (Reuters) - More than a dozen members of a Burundi opposition party have been injured in clashes with police and several others were arrested, officials and witnesses said.

The clashes late on Saturday at the headquarters of MSD party, a member of the ADC (Alliance for Democratic Change) coalition, add to political uncertainty in the tiny East African country ahead of elections next year.

Political wrangling in Burundi, which emerged from a 12-year civil war in 2005, has raised concerns of more unrest in a region grappling with violence in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Landlocked Burundi also borders Rwanda where Hutu extremists targeted ethnic Tutsis and moderate Hutus in the 1994 genocide.

Police fired live bullets late on Saturday evening when they went to free two colleagues captured by members of MSD. The two detained security personnel had been trying to break up a party meeting earlier in the day.

A total of 15 people were injured, witnesses said. Hermenegilde Harimenshi, spokesman for the police, said another 20 were arrested for failing to comply with orders.

Police had earlier used teargas to disperse supporters of the coalition who were gathered in the streets.

It was not clear why the police intervened to break up the gatherings, although other political meetings have been disrupted by authorities on occasion in the recent past.

The United Nations' Human rights Commission has expressed concern at increasing restrictions on civil and political rights in Burundi, following a series of violent acts by the ruling party's youth wing and police.

The commission also criticised the disruption of public meetings organised by opposition parties.

"The increasing restriction of public gatherings could severely narrow the democratic space ahead of the 2015 elections," said Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights.

Despite relative calm in recent years, rights groups have reported scores of political killings, intimidation of the opposition and a crackdown on media freedoms since President Pierre Nkurunziza's re-election in 2010.

Members of the Tutsi-led UPRONA party, the junior member of a power-sharing government set up to contain ethnic tensions between majority Hutus, Tutsis and other groups, have accused Nkurunziza, a Hutu, of trying to change the constitution to undermine a power-sharing deal and extend his grip on power.

Nkurunziza has not commented on the accusations. (Reporting by Patrick Nduwimana; Editing by Duncan Miriri and Mike Collett-White)

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