Burundi rights activist wounded in shooting

Bujumbura (Burundi) (AFP) - Tensions soared in Burundi on Monday as a leading human rights activist was wounded in a shooting just a day after a top general and right-hand man to President Pierre Nkurunziza was assassinated.

Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, who had publicly opposed Nkurunziza's controversial bid for a third term, "has been very badly wounded, he is in hospital", said Balthazar Fengure of the Association for the Protection of Human Rights and Detainees.

The attack followed Sunday's killing by rocket attack of General Adolphe Nshimirimana, who was widely seen as the central African nation's de facto internal security chief and even considered the regime's number two.

An AFP journalist at the scene of his death was detained by government security forces and beaten, as fears grew of further instability in the crisis-hit country.

A family member of Mbonimpa, who is in his sixties, said the activist was shot as he made his way home from work in the capital.

"Some men on motorcycle were following his car. At one point, they overtook him and they shot at him," the relative told AFP.

A diplomatic source in Bujumbura said the activist had been hit in the jaw, while a second bullet grazed his neck.

An AFP journalist who saw Mbonimpa in hospital said he was conscious. Several diplomats, including the US ambassador and France's charge d'affaires, visited the activist on Monday evening.

Just last week Nkurunziza was declared the outright winner of elections, securing a third straight term despite opposition protests and international condemnation.

Nkurunziza's candidacy was condemned as unconstitutional by the opposition and provoked months of protests that left at least 100 people dead in a fierce government crackdown, as well as an attempted coup in mid-May.

Nshimirimana was seen as the mastermind behind the crackdown on the protests as well as a key player in foiling the coup attempt.

Mbonimpa has been jailed several times because of his activism, including in April when he was held without charge for 30 hours by the intelligence services after he publicly called for protests against Nkurunziza's third term bid.

In 2014 he was jailed for four and a half months and then granted conditional release for health reasons.

He was accused at the time of "endangering state security" over allegations that the ruling CNDD-FDD party's youth wing was being given paramilitary training in neighbouring Democratic Republic of Congo.

- Outcry after journalist beaten -

There has been no claim of responsibility for General Nshimirimana's assassination, although the coup plotters have since regrouped and launched a rebellion in the north of the country, and have also been linked to a string of grenade attacks in Bujumbura.

There are fears that renewed conflict in the country could reignite ethnic Hutu-Tutsi violence and bring another humanitarian disaster to central Africa's troubled Great Lakes region.

The last civil war in Burundi, which ended in 2006, left at least 300,000 people dead.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) meanwhile lashed out on Monday at the detention and beating of AFP reporter Esdras Ndikumana.

A prominent Burundian journalist who also works for Radio France Internationale (RFI), Ndikumana said he was held for around two hours, during which time he said he was subjected to severe beatings on his back, legs and the soles of his feet.

He was later released and hospitalised, with his injuries also including a suspected broken finger.

The secretary-general of RSF, Christophe Deloire, said he was "shocked and angry" over the attack.

This "despicable assault" is "tantamount to torture," said Deloire, who called on the authorities to "immediately open an enquiry to identify and punish those who carried out this barbaric act".