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Burundi Police Open Fire, Kill 3 Protesters

Police in Burundi shot and killed three people Monday in the capital Bujumbura during renewed demonstrations against the president's attempt to extend his rule.

The Burundian Red Cross confirmed the three deaths to VOA's Central African Service. Dozens more people were reported to be wounded when police opened fire on protesters marching in suburbs of Bujumbura.

At least 15 people have been killed in more than a week of protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to run for a third term in next month's elections. Protesters have vowed to continue street demonstrations until the president changes his mind.

Hundreds of protesters, some carrying placards with slogans such as “No to violence” and “Respect the Arusha accord and the constitution,” sang the national anthem as riot police watched.

Streets blocked

Police once again blocked protesters from marching to the city center, so demonstrators instead blocked streets with stones and lit bonfires. Thick smoke could be seen billowing in the skies over Bujumbura.

The demonstrations resumed after a two-day break. Some protests began as early as 6 a.m. local time.

The presence of police on nearly every street of the capital did not stop demonstrators from expressing their views.

One student said he will keep protesting until Nkurunziza withdraws his bid for a new term.

"I have come here to express what is in my heart," the student said. "I am against the President Nkurunziza's third term bid. We don't want him. He must leave. If he won't, we also won't leave the streets."

One of the protest organizers said police are using too much force against the demonstrators.

"We are not happy with the behaviors of our police," the organizer said. "We are here on a respectable activity and they are firing live bullets at us. They are armed with guns and teargas and we are not armed with anything."

Some protesters said they are scared that pro-Nkurunziza militiamen are recording who participates in the demonstrations and plan future retribution.

"Those are militias allied to the president and they are dressed as police officers; we know them," the protest leader said. "That one was taking pictures. You see he is running away. They take pictures and later they come to kill us. We are against such behaviors."

The unrest began on April 26 after Nkurunziza announced his bid to run for a third term, a move that critics said violates the constitution and the 2000 Arusha accord that helped end Burundi's civil war.

Came to power in 2005

The president came to power in 2005. His supporters insist he is allowed to run again, because he was elected to his first term by parliament, not directly by voters.

The protests have raised fears Burundi could descend into civil war again.

Burundi's top military chief, Prime Niyongabo, told reporters Sunday that the army will not interfere with the political process.

"The military is taking this opportunity and warning those who want to use the military on political issues, in using the military on political issues it would break the law and its professional conduct," Niyongabo said. "I would like to urge all the troops wherever they are to be calm and united against those who want to use them for political goals."

Most of the businesses remained closed and most streets were deserted Monday.

Police say they have arrested at least 600 people since the protests erupted last week.