Heavy gunfire & explosion in Burundi before polls open

The president's office has called the explosions in Bujumbura terrorist acts intended to disrupt the election.

Burundian policemen secure a polling station in the Kinama neighborhood in Bujumbura on 29 June 2015. Picture: AFP.

BUJUMBURA - Hours before polls open for the country's presidential election, heavy gunfire and explosions have rocked the capital Bujumbura.

The president's office has called them terrorist acts intended to disrupt the election.

Burundi's opposition has urged voters to follow their lead and boycott the presidential election scheduled for today, saying the vote will deepen political deadlock in a nation with a long history of political violence and ethnic strife.

None of the seven candidates challenging President Pierre Nkurunziza is making a serious impact on this election that being boycotted by several leading opposition parties.

Nkurunziza's main challenger, Agathon Rwasa, is registered as an independent candidate because his faction of the FNL party is not recognised by the government.

Analysts say Nkurunziza's winning an unconstitutional third mandate will result in him governing a bitterly-divided nation that seen more than 100 people die in pre-election violence and 100 000 flee into neighbouring countries.

Talks between government and opposition aimed at averting further violence broke down on Sunday.

Nkurunziza's decision to seek a third-term in office has plunged the East African nation into its worst crisis since an ethnically charged civil war ended in 2005. Though street protests and a would-be coup were quelled, almost daily violence has left the country tense.

A grenade exploded in the centre of the capital but caused no casualties, deputy police spokesman Pierre Nkurikiye said. Grenade blasts marred a June parliamentary poll, which the opposition also boycotted.

Diplomats worry that the disorder may see Burundi slide back into civil war, a frightening prospect for a Great Lakes region still scarred by the 1994 Rwandan genocide in which about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed.

Nkurunziza's government has pledged to push ahead with Tuesday's election, ignoring calls from the African Union (AU), United States and other Western powers for the vote to be delayed due to growing insecurity.

Officials have promised a free and fair election.

Charles Nditije, leader of the Uprona party, which is part of the opposition Amizero Y'abarundi coalition, called on foreign governments not to recognise a vote in which Nkurunziza will stand unopposed after the opposition withdrew from the race.

"I am urging Burundi citizens not to go to polls this 21 July which are not democratic," he told Reuters by telephone in the capital Bujumbura.

The electoral commission has said opposition candidates names are already on the ballot paper and any votes cast for them will be counted. The commission also counted votes for the opposition in the parliamentary poll. Nkurunziza's party won.

An AU official on Monday confirmed the regional body would not be sending election monitors to Burundi because "the conditions are not conducive for credible, transparent, free and fair elections".

Jacob Enoh Eben, spokesman for African Union Commission Chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma, said that if the vote went ahead the AU would meet to discuss the way forward.

Opposition parties say Nkurunziza's re-election bid is unconstitutional and are boycotting the election race. The president cites a court ruling declaring he can run for five more years in office.

Months of talks between the two sides have yielded almost no results, and the latest negotiations broke down on Sunday when the government mediator did not show up for discussions.

Government spokesman Philippe Nzobonariba said the vote, which was delayed from 26 June, would not be put back again and he urged Burundians to go to the polls "en masse to express their legitimate will".

Additional information by Reuters