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Weekend Violence Shakes Bujumbura

FILE - The body of a man killed is laid on a street in Bujumbura, Burundi after polls opened for the presidential elections, July 21, 2015.
FILE - The body of a man killed is laid on a street in Bujumbura, Burundi after polls opened for the presidential elections, July 21, 2015.

Anti-government protesters and police clashed Saturday in Burundi's capital, Bujumbura. Burundi has dealt with unrest on and off since April.

Heavy shelling, gunfire and explosions hit several Bujumbura neighborhoods Saturday.

Human Rights Watch senior researcher on Burundi and Rwanda Carina Tertsakian says there are few details available.

“It is usually the same troubled areas of Bujumbura where there are these clashes. So there were violent clashes,” Tertsakian said. "We believe there were some dead, some injured, but we have not been able to confirm how many. And we have not been able yet to confirm exactly what happened.”

Medical student Ngabo Spageon says he was in Ngagara neighborhood.

“In the position where I was standing, I could see policemen who [were] shooting, standing in channels in the road,” Spageon said. "Then, I saw how they were shooting, during the afternoon, [Saturday] afternoon. There were also some guys who were hiding in the houses along the roads who were throwing grenades on policemen.”

Burundi has been in turmoil since April, when President Pierre Nkurunziza made his bid for a third term in office, a move opponents say violates the constitution and a peace deal that ended the war in 2006.

In May, Burundi Army General Godefroid Niyonbare announced a coup over the radio while the president was out of the country, raising fears that more violence would be taking place. The coup was unsuccessful.

Nkurunziza was re-elected in July, but not without suspicion. The United Nations, African Union, and other governments concluded the elections were not free and fair.

Tertsakian says the pattern of protest has continued.

“It can be every day that there are clashes like that,” Tertsakian said. "There is a lull, and then it starts again, and then it calms down again. So that is how it has been for quite a few months now.”

Journalists are also being targeted: private radio stations were taken off the air and reporters have been threatened and attacked.

“But you know, there are a lot of rumors flying around, when things like this happen, as I am sure you know,” Tertsakian said. "And it is partly because of the absence of independent media in Burundi, that all kinds of rumors fly around.

But Spageon says Bujumbura residents have learned to live between the clashes.

“I am not afraid, because it is now like current time for Bujumbura people, there are sometimes it explodes, other times it is calm, things like that, yeah,” Spageon said.

And residents are hoping the calm will outlast the storm.