At least three protesters have been killed and 45 wounded in Burundi, according to the Red Cross, as demonstrations against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s decision to seek a third term in office entered a second week.
Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, a veteran member of the civil society groups which called for the rallies on Monday, had earlier said two protesters were shot dead in the capital, Bujumbura.
The police had no immediate comment but said they would issue a statement later, the Reuters news agency reported.
Leading opposition figure, Agathon Rwasa, who threatened to boycott the coming presidential election unless Nkurunziza withdrew his candidacy, condemned the country’s police over the violence.
“It’s a shame President Nkurunziza goes on killing innocent and unarmed people…our police are more partisan than professional and discredit our nation,” Rwasa told Al Jazeera.
The protests would lead to the “fall of dictatorship and the rise of true democracy,” he added.
The violence came as US Secretary of State John Kerry said Nkurunziza’s decision to stand for a third term “flies in the face” of the constitution.
The top US diplomat said the recent unrest in Burundi was a result of public concern about that decision and “should be listened to”
The latest deaths take the total killed to at least 11 people, including soldiers and police.
Thousands of protesters joined Monday’s protest with some managing to reach the centre of the capital, which they had previously failed to access amid heavy police and military presence.
Gunfire rang out and men ducked for cover as some shopkeepers hurriedly closed their businesses. Several people were also injured after the gunfire, the Associated Press news agency reported citing witnesses.
The government has called the demonstrations an “insurrection” and accused protesters of stoking violence.
Al Jazeera’s Malcolm Webb, reporting from Bujumbura, said the protests seemed to be spreading.
“In today’s protests there were more people on the streets than before, including in some suburbs in the capital that have not had any demonstrations since they began, and provinces outside the city too,” Webb said.
“The police have also been escalating their response, proportional to the number of people on the streets.”
Burundi’s government has vowed a major crackdown on political protests, accusing opposition and civil society groups of providing cover for a “terrorist enterprise”.
The African nation’s Security Minister Gabriel Nizigama on Saturday said that an overnight grenade attack that killed three people, including two police officers, was “linked to those who say they are demonstrating” against the president.
“We heard these criminals used grenades and guns, and for us they are linked to those who say they are demonstrating because they consider the police, who are bringing peace and security, to be their enemy,” Nizigama said.