Burundians are voting Monday in parliamentary elections marked by an opposition boycott and violence as police battle anti-government protesters in the capital.
In the Musaga neighborhood, which has seen violent protests against President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term, few civilians were seen at the polls as mostly police and soldiers lined up to vote.
The voting is taking place despite calls by the international community for a postponement until there is a peaceful environment for credible elections. The African Union said on Sunday that it would not observe the polls because the necessary conditions have not been met for free and fair elections.
The European Union said Burundi's decision to ignore U.N. and other international demands to delay voting further was a “serious matter” and could lead to withholding more aid.
Sounds of shooting and at least two blasts were heard overnight in the capital Bujumbura, the focus of clashes between demonstrators and police, Reuters reported. A witness said one blast in Bujumbura's restive Musaga district on Monday morning.
Gunfire and at least one grenade explosion could be heard in some parts of Bujumbura as voting started at 6 a.m. Monday, said witnesses. There is heavy security across the city. Weeks of unrest that has killed dozens of people has remained largely confined to the capital with only sporadic demonstrations in other urban centers.
About 3.8 million people are expected to vote, according to the electoral commission, but it appears a boycott by 17 opposition groups will keep the turnout low, especially in Bujumbura.
The U.S., which opposes Nkurunziza's bid for a third term, suspended technical assistance to Burundi's electoral commission.
Despite international pressure, Nkurunziza's government insists that an indefinite postponement of the elections would create a dangerous political vacuum that might cause even more chaos.
Bujumbura has suffered unrest since the ruling party announced on April 26 that Nkurunziza would be its candidate in presidential elections scheduled for July 15.
Nkurunziza's supporters say he is eligible for a third term because he was chosen by lawmakers, and not popularly elected, for his first term, and the constitutional court has ruled in the president's favor. Protesters insist Nkurunziza must go after serving two terms.
The street protests boiled over in mid-May, leading to an attempted military coup that was put down quickly.