BUJUMBURA, March 12 (Reuters) - Burundi police killed seven worshippers on Tuesday during clashes with more than 100 followers of a woman who claims to see the Virgin Mary once a month, a regional official said.
The members of the banned religious sect were going to pray at the top of a hill in a northern Burundi village when the violence broke out. About 30 people were injured, the official said.
Most of the 8 million citizens in Burundi are Roman Catholics and the central African country does not have a history of religious violence.
"The police ordered believers of the sect to leave the place but they started throwing stones on them, so the police opened fire," Athanase Mbonabuca, governor of Kayanza province where the clashes took place, told Reuters. Many of the protesters also had clubs, Mbonabuca said.
Police deputy spokesman Pierre Nkurikiye confirmed the police had killed seven people. "We regret the incident," he said.
The police did their best to avoid confrontation but they were threatened by followers of Zebiya Ngendakumana, he said.
The authorities had banned the group's monthly pilgrimage to the site in Businde village, where worshippers pray to receive miracles, because of public order concerns, Mbonabuca said.
The government's interior ministry has banned the sect and Burundi's Roman Catholic Church has distanced itself from the followers of Ngendakumana, a 30-year-old woman who says she has visions of the Virgin Mary on the 12th day of every month.
Ngendakumana and her followers were previously members of the Catholic church but split from it more than a year ago. (Reporting by Patrick Nduwimana; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Erica Billingham)