Violence rocks Burundi as voters go to the polls for presidential vote

Voting has already begun in parts of the country

At least one policeman and a civilian were killed in overnight violence before Burundi’s presidential vote on Tuesday after blasts and gunfire echoed around the capital.

Presidential adviser Willy Nyamitwe blamed the opposition and those behind weeks of protests for the violence, putting the death toll at two. “People do it to intimidate voters.

Nyamitwe was quoted saying, ”they don’t want the voters to go to the polls”

Blasts and gunfire overnight marred Burundi’s presidential election on Tuesday, which the opposition said it would boycott after President Pierre Nkurunziza sparked a crisis by seeking a third term in office.

The rebel-turned-president’s campaign for another five years in power led to weeks of protests, a failed coup attempt and clashes between rebel soldiers and the army, stoking tensions in a region with a history of ethnic bloodshed.

Slow queues formed outside polling stations like this one in Ngozi

Voting has begun in rural areas after several blasts and sporadic gunfire echoed at night in the capital Bujumbura. It was not clear if anyone was hurt.

A grenade attack on Monday evening hurt no one, police had said. “We need change. We need new blood,” said Wilson, a car mechanic in Bujumbura who did not give his full name.

Opponents say Nkurunziza’s re-election bid violates the constitution and undermines an accord that ended a 12-year conflict in 2005 that killed 300,000 people.

Nkurunziza cites a constitutional court ruling saying he can run again.

Burundi has been grappling with its worst crisis since the end of the civil war, which pitted rebel groups of the ethnic Hutu majority, including one led by Nkurunziza, against the army, led at the time by the Tutsi minority.

A polling station in one of the polling centres in Burundi

The tension worries neighbouring Rwanda, which has the same ethnic mix and suffered a genocide in 1994 that killed 800,000, mostly Tutsis as well as moderate Hutus.

Western donors and African states called for the polls to be postponed from July 21 because of violence and media restrictions, including the closure of private radio stations.

The government said it had delayed voting by as much as possible and would not do so again. It has promised a fair vote.

The United States and European nations, major donors to the aid-reliant country, have halted some aid.

The African Union said it would not send observers as the vote would not be fair.