Grenade blasts and boycott in Burundi polls
Burundians voted Monday in controversial elections amid an opposition boycott and a string of grenade attacks, with the election commission claiming a “massive” turnout despite many stations being quiet.
Assailants threw grenades both in the capital Bujumbura and at some provincial voting centers ahead of Monday’s parliamentary and local elections, delaying the start of voting in some areas, police and election officials said.
Another grenade exploded in the capital shortly after voting began in the latest example of the weeks of violence sparked by President Pierre Nkurunzizaa’s defiant bid for a third term.
By midday, election commission chief Pierre-Claver Ndayicariye, said “participation was enormous throughout the country.”
No official figures were available, and in polling stations in Bujumbura queues were short and turnout sparse with election officials at times outnumbering voters.
U.N. Secretary General Ban Kimoon earlier called for the elections to be delayed after the opposition said they would not take part, as Burundi faces its worst crisis since civil war ended nine years ago.
The European Union on Monday condemned the decision to hold elections, saying polls “can only exacerbate the profound crisis.”
Police patrolled the streets of Bujumbura, especially in opposition areas where the worst violence was seen during weeks of protests.
“Armed groups tried to attack polling centers ... they were shooting and threw grenades, but the police stopped them,” deputy police chief Godefroid Bizimana said.
In opposition areas, few civilians were seen at polling stations. In some stations, the lines of people queuing were mainly soldiers or police.
“The protesters closed roads to block us, but we went with the police,” said Annick Niyonkuru, one of the few civilians waiting to vote in the capital’s Musaga district.
Outside the capital, polling centers also appeared quiet. In the southern Bururi district, an opposition stronghold, about 10 percent of registered voters had cast their ballots by midday.
In nearby Rumonge, a more politically mixed area, turnout appeared to be around 30 percent.
Burundian women wait to vote in parliamentary elections in Ngozi, Burundi, Monday, June 29.