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In Burundi, 100 Students Seek Refuge at US Embassy

Burundian students slide under the main access gate of the American Embassy in Bujumbura, June 25, 2015.

About 100 university students in Burundi are in the U.S. embassy's parking lot seeking refuge amid the country's political turmoil, an embassy statement confirmed Thursday.

The students had been camping at a construction site adjacent to the embassy grounds after their university was closed on April 30 due to political turmoil. Police persuaded them to leave the site and some went to the embassy's parking lot, the statement said. Four people received minor injuries during the incident, the embassy said.

The students said they fear aggression after violent demonstrations against President Pierre Nkurunziza's efforts to run for a third term in elections in July.

Landry Ndikuriyo, a history major at the National University of Burundi, said the police threatened the use of force to evict them from the building site causing a melee as students scampered for safety.

In Washington, U.S. State Department spokesman John Kirby said some of the students were starting to leave and that all the embassy workers were safe.

"There was no violent action against the embassy," Kirby told reporters. "This wasn't directed at the United States. There was never any penetration of the actual embassy compound, and none of our State Department employees were under any physical threat whatsoever."

At least 77 people have died in street protests against Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in the July 15 presidential elections, according to rights activists.

Also Thursday, Burundi's second vice president said he fled the country fearing for his life after opposing the president's controversial effort to extend his time in power that sparked off violent protests in the capital in recent weeks.

Gervais Rufyikiri, who went to Belgium last week, said in an interview on Radio France International that he has not officially resigned. He is the most senior government official to publicly oppose Nkurunziza's efforts to stay in power.

Dozens of opposition and civil society activists, government officials and journalists have gone into exile after opposing the president's candidacy for another term.

Critics say Nkurunziza's push for another term violates the two-term limit for presidents set by the constitution.

The street protests started April 26, after the announcement of Nkurunziza's candidacy. The demonstrations triggered an attempted coup in mid-May that was quickly put down.