Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza has reviewed troops in a semi-deserted stadium as the public failed to turn up for the country's 53rd Independence Day celebrations, amid heightened security after skirmishes erupted in parts of the capital Bujumbura.
Demonstrations started in the East African nation when Nkurunziza declared his intention to stand for a third term in the June elections, which the opposition claims is unconstitutional. However, his supporters argue that the president's first term should be discounted as it was chosen by the parliament rather than via election.
The festivities went ahead in Bujumbura, despite violence erupting in the Mutakura and Cibitoke districts – known for having housed some of the protests against the president's third term – on Wednesday 1 July.
'Heavy gunfire' during police operation
Local sources described how heavy gunfire in the two neighbourhoods followed a grenade explosion around 8.30am (local time) in Mutakura, in which two policemen were injured.
Automatic weapon gunshots could still be heard at the time of publishing, according to the same sources.
"At 8am we started hearing the police firing gunshots and the shots were very heavy. For us, this was strange because the district was calm this morning. We were told it was because police officers were raiding houses in our area but we can't know for sure because no one goes out in the streets," Pascal (not his real name), a resident from Mutakura, told IBTimes UK over the phone.
"Around midday, we were told a police van was targeted by a grenade, but again, we don't know if that is true and if any deaths were recorded because we are locked indoors."
Presidency: Festivities under way
The spokesman for the Presidency, Gervais Abayeho, spoke to IBTimes UK from Bujumbura's Prince Louis Rwagasore Stadium, where army and police officers were parading.
Paratroopers also jumped from planes above the stadium, with their parachutes bearing the colours of the Burundian flag.
"The festivities are going on. After the civilians parade, and the officers parade, the president will make a speech before decorating those who contributed to the independence of Burundi," Abayeho said, adding that a commission had been set up to select civilians who will receive the medals.
Insecure climate dampens festivities
A local journalist, however, described the celebrations as "not like the other years as they are more like a formality now".
For many, the festivities come as increasingly difficult living conditions in Burundi and a government crackdown on dissidents have pushed a great number of opposition figures out of the country.
On the State Protocol's programme of festivities, which IBTimes UK saw, two defectors are still listed as being part of the official ceremony.
Vice president Gervais Rufyikiri fled the country on 25 June, saying he felt threatened after opposing Nkurunziza's third-term bid.
Pie Ntavohanyuma, the president of the assembly, fled to Belgium on 28 June – a day before the country held contested legislative elections.
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