Bujumbura, Burundi: Burundi's government insisted Friday that the first stage of controversial elections will go ahead next week despite the central African nation's ongoing political crisis.
Interior Minister Edouard Nduwimana said that even after the withdrawal of support from the influential Catholic Church and the European Union, parliamentary polls will take place next Friday.
"There isn't any electoral process that doesn't suffer from problems, in Burundi or any other country. We regret that certain partners have pulled out of the process... but despite this the elections will go ahead in good condition," he told AFP.
"That the EU withdraws and that the Church withdraws its priests does not mean the elections should not take place. The Burundian people are thirsty for these elections and we need to do everything so they take place in good conditions," he added.
Burundi's crisis erupted over President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in office, with opposition and rights groups saying the move violates the constitution as well as the terms of a peace deal that ended a 13-year civil war in 2006.
Burundi's capital has been hit by weeks of civil unrest which has left at least 30 dead in a major security crackdown, and the crisis intensified earlier this month when a top general staged a failed coup attempt -- increasing fears that the impoverished, landlocked country could be plunged back into widespread violence.
Parliamentary elections are due to be held on June 5, with a presidential poll scheduled for June 26.
On Thursday, Burundi's Catholic Church said it could not support the upcoming polls and that priests who serve in electoral commissions across the country would step down.
The opposition has also said the holding of free and fair elections is impossible, with independent media silenced and allegations of threats and intimidation by Nkurunziza's supporters.
Weekend summit planned
Demonstrations against Nkurunziza meanwhile continued on Friday, with two more protesters shot dead.
One protester was shot dead by police in a district in the north of the capital, residents said, while a grenade explosion wounded two people in the city centre.
Another person was shot dead and several others wounded when police opened fire to disperse a protest in Mukike, a commune outside the capital, a local official told AFP.
Calling on Nkurunziza to postpone the polls, the United States strongly condemned the grenade attack and continued violence.
"This environment is not conducive to the holding of credible, free, fair and democratic elections," State Department spokesman Jeff Rathke said in a statement.
Human Rights Watch accused security forces of using "excessive force".
"The Burundian authorities should call a halt to the crackdown on peaceful opponents and critics," said Daniel Bekele, Africa director at HRW.
"They should order the police to stop using excessive deadly force, investigate the deaths and beatings of protesters at the hands of police, and hold those responsible for excessive force to account."
Burundi's Red Cross said they were treating a 12-year-old girl who had been raped, with local residents accusing a member of the police. The Red Cross also said it had received complaints of at least four other rapes in Musaga, a district of the capital that has been at the centre of the protest movement.
According to HRW, Burundi has been gripped by "pervasive fear".
"Medical personnel, journalists, and human rights defenders have received death threats and menacing phone calls, and been intimidated and harassed by the authorities," the group said. Many threatened were in hiding or had fled the country, it added.
Regional heads of state are due to meet again Sunday in Tanzania's Dar es Salaam to discuss Burundi's crisis but it is unclear whether Nkurunziza will attend.
The last time the president left the country, for the previous regional summit on May 13, some members of the armed forces tried to overthrow him, launching an ultimately unsuccessful coup attempt.
Neighbouring Tanzania, which has been openly critical of Nkurunziza, called on Burundi's government to "listen" to its people.
"Our position is that we call on the Burundian people to remain calm and we urged the government to listen to them," foreign minister, Bernard Membe, told state-run TBC1 television.
United Nations special envoy Said Djinnit meanwhile said talks between the government and opposition had made progress on several issues -- including the reopening of independent media and the release of detainees -- but not on the key issue of a halt to protests in return for Nkurunziza's agreement not to stand again.
He said both sides "have agreed to resume their talks after the summit in Dar es Salaam."