Clashes between police and anti-government protesters have left at least 12 dead in Burundi's capital, Bujumbura. The EU has imposed sanctions on four people with ties to the president for "undermining democracy."
Local residents in Bujumbura, the capital of Burundi, said on Sunday that at least a dozen civilians were killed in clashes over the weekend, contesting statements made by the authorities.
"It was a nightmare. All day we heard explosions from grenades and the crackle of automatic weapons and machine guns," Gerard, a Bujumbura resident, told the AFP news agency.
Bujumbura's deputy police spokesman, Pierre Nkurikiye, blamed the clashes on "armed criminals," who attacked police officers in the northern suburb Mutakura on Saturday afternoon.
"Two of the assailants were killed and two policemen injured," Nkurikiye said on Sunday.
Burundi has witnessed a surge in politically motivated violence since President Pierre Nkurunziza announced in April he would seek a third term in office, a move criticized by activists and opposition figures for undermining the country's constitution.
The 2005 Burundian constitution ended a conflict lasting more than a decade, and is cited as the pillar of stability in a country with a similar ethnic makeup as Rwanda, which in 1992 witnessed genocide claim the lives of 800,000 people.
According to the constitution, presidents are limited to two terms. However, Nkurunziza - who won his third term in July - said a court ruling cleared the way for his third presidential bid.
On Thursday, the European Council, which is made up of ministers of EU member states, imposed sanctions, including travel bans and assets freezes, against four officials with close to ties to President Nkurunziza.
"The Council adopted travel restrictions and an asset freeze in respect of four persons whose activities are undermining democracy or obstructing efforts to achieve a political solution to the current crisis in Burundi," the European Council's statement said.
"Progress is not being made in the search for a political solution to the crisis in Burundi and there is a risk of an escalation of violence. This is why the Council has considered it appropriate to impose restrictive measures on individuals," the statement added.
The UN has urged the government to stop committing human rights abuses, adding that dialogue was the sole avenue to avoid civil conflict.
ls/sms (AFP, Reuters, dpa)