Burundi’s security forces fired teargas to disperse about 200 people protesting against the death of an opposition activist as political tensions grow before elections starting next week.
A police spokesperson, Pierre Ntarabaganyi, confirmed that a member of the Movement for Solidarity and Democracy party (MSD) had been shot dead and an investigation was underway.
Neighbours of the victim, 27-year-old Eddy Munezero, said he was killed by two gunmen as he returned home after campaigning for the party in Burundi’s capital Bujumbura.
An international human rights organisation said political violence before local and national ballots which start next week risked jeopardising the central African nation’s efforts to build a multiparty democracy after years of civil war.
“The violence, if left unchecked, could set back Burundi’s notable strides toward peace and multiparty democracy after years of civil war,” New York-based Human Rights Watch said in a report last week.
Burundi, a coffee producer, has enjoyed relative peace since the last Hutu guerilla group, the Forces for National Liberation (FNL), agreed to lay down weapons and join the government.
The polls are now seen as a test of political stability in the country, which is a member of the five-nation East African Community trading bloc.
Burundi holds district elections on May 21, a presidential election on June 28, a parliamentary poll on July 23 and a vote for senators on July 28. The electoral process will conclude with local elections to be held separately in September.
Former rebel leader Pierre Nkurunziza was elected president in 2005 after a long UN-backed peace process.
A local rights group, Ligue Iteka, said that earlier in the campaigning an FNL member was beaten to death in the country’s north by youths aligned with the ruling CNDD-FDD party.
The MSD’s leader is a former journalist called Alexis Sinduhije. He has been harsh critic of the way the government deals with dissent.
He said the police were holding 10 party members in different police stations across the country.
Human Rights Watch said the ruling party and FNL had a hand in most of the violence that it had observed and the police had failed to carry out proper investigations in many cases.
“The situation is already extremely tense, with a number of party militants armed and ready to resort to violence to intimidate their rivals,” HRW said.
Pic: President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi