Jul 21, 2015 12:59 PM
Polls close in Burundi election as president seeks 3rd term
The Associated Press
BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) Overnight gunfire and explosions kept turnout low Tuesday in Burundi's presidential election, with three people killed in unrest over President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term that his opponents say is unconstitutional.
Turnout was low in the capital, Bujumbura, and one province but 16 other provinces had a good level of voters, said the head of Burundi's electoral commission Claver Ndayicariye. Results are expected in two days, he said.
With some of the opposition boycotting the election and others charging that they were not allowed to campaign, Nkurunziza, 51, is not facing a strong electoral challenge.
The U.S. State Department warned Tuesday that the election is not credible.
"The legitimacy of the electoral process in Burundi over the past few months has been tainted by the government's harassment of opposition and civil society members, closing down of media outlets and political space, and intimidation of voters," U.S. State Department Spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.
The U.S. is considering sanctions, including visa bans for those found responsible in the promotion of instability in the country, he said.
Many fear that Burundi's election may provoke widespread violence. Since independence from Belgium in 1961, Burundi has had four coups and a civil war that an estimated 250,000 dead. Kirby said the "fragile progress" made since the end of the civil war in 2006 is at risk of unraveling. The British government also issued a statement saying the poll is "discredited."
Burundi has been rocked by unrest since April when the ruling party announced Nkurunziza would run for a third term. More than 100 people have died in street protests against the president's bid to extend his time in power. The strife triggered an attempted military coup in mid-May that was quickly put down by pro-Nkurunziza forces.
Two policemen were shot dead in the capital Monday night, said Willy Nyamitwe, the presidential adviser for information and media. The body of an opposition official was found on a road Tuesday morning. The opposition and the government blame each other for the overnight violence.
At least 170,000 refugees have fled the country fearing electoral violence, said the U.N. refugee agency. Nkurunziza's critics including his second vice-president, the deputy president of the Constitutional Court and the vice-chairwoman of the electoral commission are among dozens who have gone to exile alleging death threats.
Among the few people who voted in opposition areas of the capital, Bujumbura, many tried to wipe off the indelible ink on their fingers fearing reprisals from opposition supporters.
Unlike the capital city, a high turn-out was reported in Nkurunziza's hometown of Ngozi in northern Burundi where the president voted, riding up to the polling station on a bicycle.
Opponents say Nkurunziza must retire because the constitution limits the president to two terms. But the president's supporters say he is eligible for a third term because he was chosen by lawmakers and not popularly elected for his first term in 2005.
Associated Press Writer Gerard Nzohabona contributed to this report from Ngozi, Burundi.