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BUJUMBURA — Hundreds of students from a Burundi university shuttered by the government were seeking refuge outside the U.S. embassy in the capital on Friday, amid unrest and escalating tensions ahead of the June 26 presidential vote.
The east African nation has been rocked by days of protests triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to seek a third term, a move opponents say violates the constitution and a peace deal that ended an ethnically charged civil war in 2005.
Citing security fears, the government on Wednesday closed University of Burundi, a prestigious institution where football-fanatic Nkurunziza taught physical education in the mid-1990s. Students said they left halls on Thursday but those from rural areas were unable to return home due to road blocks.
An official at the U.S. embassy in Bujumbura said late on Thursday that hundreds of students were "seeking a safe refuge" and had lined the street next to the embassy compound. A witness said they were still there on Friday but did not give numbers.The embassy spokesman had no immediate comment.
Tom Malinowski, U.S. assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labor told Nkurunziza in a meeting on Thursday that the country risks "boiling over," especially if political space is closed for opponents.
“We have urged the government not to let the situation get past a point of no return, because if that happens the gains of the last decade really will be at risk,” Malinowski told a news conference on Thursday.
Bujumbura suburbs, where five consecutive days of protests had taken place since Sunday, were generally calmer on Friday, a national Labor Day holiday.
The crisis is being closely watched in a region still scarred by the 1994 genocide that killed more than 800,000 people in neighboring Rwanda, which like Burundi is divided between ethnic Tutsis and Hutus.