Grenade attacks injure 11 police in Bujumbura

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At least 70 people have been killed and 500 wounded in weeks of political violence in Burundi

At least 70 people have been killed and 500 wounded in weeks of political violence in Burundi (AFP Photo/Carl de Souza)

Bujumbura (Burundi) (AFP) - Eleven Burundian police officers were wounded, one of them seriously, in a string of overnight grenade attacks in the capital of the crisis-hit central African nation, security sources said Saturday.

"Last night, several police posts as well as police vehicles were attacked with grenades. Eleven police officers were wounded, one of them seriously, and police responded with sustained gunfire," a senior police official told AFP, blaming demonstrators opposed to President Pierre Nkurunziza's controversial bid for a third term in office.

Officials said the attacks took place in the districts of Citiboke, Nyakabiga, Musaga and Jabe, which have been at the centre of weeks of unrest sparked by Nkurunziza's decision to seek a third consecutive term in elections slated for mid-July.

"They (the demonstrators) have changed their methods," said the police official, condemning what he said were "terrorist attacks". Officials said no arrests were made.

The sound of explosions and heavy gunfire echoed across the capital Friday night.

Residents in the affected areas said they were unsure who was behind the attacks, although some blamed the police and accused security forces of "terrorising the population".

Burundi's opposition and activists say Nkurunziza's re-election bid is unconstitutional and a violation of a 2006 peace deal that ended 13 years of civil war.

Parliamentary elections are planned for June 29, ahead of the presidential vote on July 15.

On Thursday, the Burundian human rights group Aprodeh said at least 70 people have been killed, 500 wounded and more than 1,000 jailed since late April, when the opposition took to the streets to protest Nkurunziza's bid to remain in power.

More than 100,000 people have fled the violence to neighbouring countries.

Nkurunziza survived a coup attempt last month and has since faced down international pressure, including aid cuts, aimed at forcing him to reconsider his attempt to stay in power, which diplomats fear could plunge the country back into war.

Burundi's government meanwhile said it had been informed by the United Nations of the appointment of a new special envoy to mediate in the crisis.

Senegal's Abdoulaye Bathily will replace Algeria's Saïdi Djinnit, who quit earlier this month after being branded as too pro-government by civil society activists.

"I can assure that the government is open to dialogue," said Burundi's foreign minister, Aime-Alain Nyamitwe.

However he ruled out any change in the election calendar, warning that any further postponement could lead to a political vacuum in the country.

He also said Nkurunziza's third-term bid was not up for discussion.

"You have to be realistic. We are almost a week away from the first round of the elections, and the legal deadline for candidacies have passed," he told AFP.