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Burundi Releases Imprisoned Protesters Amid Aid Talks With EU

FILE - A policeman walks away after throwing a tear gas canister during a protest against Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza and his bid for a third term in Bujumbura, June 2, 2015.

Nearly 100 Burundian protesters who opposed President Pierre Nkurunziza during months of violence in the capital, Bujumbura, have been released from prison, officials said Tuesday as the government held aid talks with European Union officials.

Burundi, which emerged from a 12-year civil war a decade ago, began spiraling into chaos in April when Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term, causing months of protests in Bujumbura and a failed coup.

Bujumbura has been holding talks with EU officials about whether the tiny East African nation can continue receiving EU aid after arresting hundreds of protesters, shuttering private media houses and closing bank accounts of nongovernmental organizations.

Deo Ruberintwari, the Interior Ministry's permanent secretary, said the release of 97 prisoners "has no connection with the consultations underway."

Activists and human rights groups said many of the protesters were beaten while in prison, something officials denied.

Philippe Nzobonariba, the government spokesman, said media and other organizations were closed for criminality and there was evidence the failed coup in May was financed through bank accounts of NGOs.

Nzobonariba said he expected Burundi and EU countries to come up with an agreement that would allow vital aid flows to continue.

The United States last week warned that Burundi was on the brink of civil war and would need regional mediation to establish a peace process between the government and opposition to avert a new conflict.

Regional efforts to cool Burundi's crisis have stumbled, despite calls by the African Union and regional East African states for dialogue.