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US Urges Burundi to Postpone Election

Burundian police arrest a demonstrator during clashes with security forces in the Cibitoke district of the capital Bujumbura, Burundi, May 29, 2015.

The United States wants Burundi to postpone its upcoming elections, following weeks of political unrest.

"This environment is not conducive to the holding of credible, free, fair and democratic elections," U.S. State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said Friday.

"We are deeply concerned that the recent grenade attacks, violence perpetrated by the ruling party Imbonerakure youth militia, and continued restrictions on peaceful assembly and the media are undermining efforts to achieve a peaceful resolution of the current crisis," Rathke said.

A child was wounded Friday in a grenade attack on a bank's parking lot in Bujumbura, the capital. At least two other people have been killed in grenade attacks in recent days.

Human Rights Watch said Friday Burundian police have used "excessive force" in a crackdown on protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza's election bid for a third term.

The president's decision to seek re-election on June 26 has sparked weeks of often violent protests in which more than 20 people have died in clashes between protesters and police.

Earlier this month, some of the president's critics staged an unsuccessful coup while he was out of the country.

Burundi's Catholic Church said Thursday it was withdrawing its support of the upcoming elections. The country's Catholic bishops said in a statement it had asked its clergy who serve on electoral commissions to step down from those commissions.

EU suspends election observer mission

Meanwhile, the European Union said earlier in the week it is suspending its election observer mission in Burundi.

An EU statement said the election process has been "marred by restrictions on independent media, excessive use of force against demonstrators, a climate of intimidation for opposition parties and civil society, and a lack of confidence in the election authorities."

Burundi's Interior Minister Edouard Nduwimana said Friday the withdrawal of the Catholic Church and the EU "does not mean the elections should not take place." He said, "The Burundian people are thirsty for these elections and we need to do everything so they take place in good conditions."

On Wednesday, Burundi's government asked Burundians to donate the money needed to hold elections in June, because some foreign donors have threatened to withhold aid if Nkurunziza continues with his controversial plan to run for a third term.

The political opposition recently broke off peace talks after opposition party leader Zedi Feruzi and his bodyguard were killed in a shooting in Bujumbura. A human rights activist, Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, told VOA's Central Africa Service that those talks resumed on Thursday.

The United States has condemned the killings and urged Burundian authorities to arrest the perpetrators and protect other politicians, and both the U.S. and the United Nations have urged all parties to return to the talks.

The U.S. has also called for authorities to lift a ban on further protests, allow independent radio stations to resume broadcasting and stop using the term "insurgents" to refer to peaceful protesters.

More than 100,000 Burundians have fled to neighboring countries to escape the violence between protesters and the police.

The president's critics say a third term would violate the constitution. His supporters say he is eligible to run because parliament, not voters, elected him to his first term in 2005.