Police in Burundi killed two protesters and left another in a coma during violent clashes that erupted Sunday after President Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would seek a third term in office despite a two-term limit set by the country's constitution.
Thousands joined protests in the country's capital, Bujumbura, where they were met by riot police firing water cannons, tear gas, and live ammo to disperse the crowds, according to the BBC. Video footage showed police severely beating one protestor with their batons, and charging at another group with their riot shields up.
Footage from a local TV network showed piles of burning tires in the streets and large crowds of demonstrators squaring off against dozens of police in riot gear
Nkurunziza's announcement sparked fears that the country could once again erupt into civil war. The country's previous conflict claimed 300,000 lives during 12 years of fighting between ethnic Hutus and Tutsis that ended in 2005. The peace deal was brokered by South Africa and the United Nations, which spent years working to disarm thousands of former soldiers and rebels.
Nkurunziza took office after being appointed by parliament at the end of the war. The country's ruling political party, CNDD-FDD, nominated Nkurunziza to run for a third term, arguing that he because was appointed to his first term he could legally seek another term by election. Nkurunziza banned protests after he announced his intent to run.
The election is scheduled for June.
The Red Cross confirmed the two deaths to Reuters.
"We counted two protesters killed by police, four others were injured and one is in coma in hospital after being hit by a bullet," Burundi Red Cross spokesman Alexis Manirakiza told Reuters.
The UN reported that thousands of Burundi residents have fled to Rwanda and the Democratic Republic of Congo due to rising violence and political tensions ahead of the elections, and are staying in refugee camps in both places. Reuters placed the number of refugees around 17,000.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said in a statement earlier this month there had been an increase in politically motivated harassment, intimidation, and acts of violence, as well as a reported rise in hate speech in Burundi ahead of the elections.