Blasts and gunfire overnight marred Burundi's presidential election on Tuesday, which the opposition said it would boycott after President Pierre Nkurunziza sparked a crisis by seeking a third term in office.
The rebel-turned-president's campaign for another five years in power led to weeks of protests, a failed coup attempt and clashes between rebel soldiers and the army, stoking tensions in a region with a history of ethnic bloodshed.
An electoral official said voting had begun in rural areas after several blasts and sporadic gunfire echoed at night in the capital Bujumbura. It was not clear if anyone was hurt. A grenade attack on Monday evening hurt no one, police had said.
"We need change. We need new blood," said Wilson, a car mechanic in Bujumbura who did not give his full name. He added that he would not vote because none of Nkurunziza's rivals was running.
Opponents say Nkurunziza's re-election bid violates the constitution and undermines an accord that ended a 12-year conflict in 2005 that killed 300,000 people. Nkurunziza cites a constitutional court ruling saying he can run again.
Ferdinand, 40, also in Bujumbura, said he would vote for Nkurunziza, a soccer fan who is often pictured rolling up his sleeves to work with people in the fields, because he had "a good program of development for ordinary citizens."
Burundi has been grappling with its worst crisis since the end of the civil war, which pitted rebel groups of the ethnic Hutu majority, including one led by Nkurunziza, against the army, led at the time by the Tutsi minority.
The tension worries neighboring Rwanda, which has the same ethnic mix and suffered a genocide in 1994 that killed 800,000, mostly Tutsis as well as moderate Hutus.
Western donors and African states called for the polls to be postponed from July 21 because of violence and media restrictions, including the closure of private radio stations.
The government said it had delayed voting by as much as possible and would not do so again. It has promised a fair vote.
"The outcome of these elections will be void," Jean
Minani, one of the opposition presidential candidates, said on the eve of the vote, speaking with other candidates participating in the boycott.
The United States and European nations, major donors to the aid-reliant country, have halted some aid. The African Union said it would not send observers as the vote would not be fair.
Burundi's electoral commission said opposition names were still on the ballot paper and any votes for them would be counted. It also counted votes for opponents who boycotted a June parliamentary poll that Nkurunziza's party won easily.