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Burundi opposition leader declares election boycott

BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Burundi’s most prominent opposition leader said on Friday his party is boycotting national elections amid political unrest stemming from the president’s bid for a third term.

Agathon Rwasa, who leads the opposition party known by its initials as FNL, told The Associated Press that he is pulling out because he no longer feels safe on the campaign trail. He added that he believes credible elections cannot be held amid persistent violence as the security forces try to quell protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to extend his time in office.

At least two grenades exploded in the nation’s capital, Bujumbura, on Friday, witnesses said. Three people, including a woman and her child, were wounded in one of the explosions, which happened in the parking lot of a commercial bank, according to witness Yves Florent Nkundwa. Another grenade exploded on a bus moments after passengers vacated it.

Nkurunziza’s government is pressing ahead with elections despite violence in Bujumbura and growing international calls for the elections to be postponed. The government says such a move would create a dangerous political vacuum and possible opportunities for more chaos.

Prospere Ntahorwamiye, a spokesman for Burundi’s electoral body, said elections would proceed as scheduled despite Rwasa’s decision. Parliamentary elections are set for June 5, and presidential elections for June 26.

Citing insecurity, Catholic Church leaders here said on Thursday they had withdrawn support for the elections as scheduled.

The European Union also said it is suspending its election observer mission in Burundi over concerns about restrictions on the independent media, excessive use of force against demonstrators and intimidation of opposition parties and civic groups.

There have been almost daily street demonstrations in Bujumbura, starting a month ago after the ruling party announced it had nominated Nkurunziza as its candidate for a third term, a decision many see as unconstitutional. At least 20 people have been killed in the violence.

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