Nairobi - Burundi's ruling party on Monday accused the European Union of ethnic bias after it slapped sanctions on four senior officials, blasting the move as a "provocation".
Last week the EU slapped a travel ban and an asset freeze on four Burundi officials, accusing them of blocking efforts to resolve the political crisis in the impoverished central African country, prompting a furious response from the ruling CNDD-FDD party of President Pierre Nkurunziza.
"The sanctions... imposed by the EU on Burundians of one ethic group are likely to undermine dialogue [with the opposition] before it has even begun," a statement said, accusing the EU of seeking to stoke divisions between Burundians.
It said the EU decision was "illegal" and accused the bloc of backing anti-government protesters - "most if not all are housed and fed by certain EU countries", it said, without elaborating.
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The statement came after a weekend of violence in which at least a dozen civilians were killed in clashes between police and protesters in the capital Bujumbura.
Since late April, the country has been gripped by violence which erupted after Nkurunziza announced he was going to seek a third five-year term in office, in a move his opponents said went against the terms of a 2006 peace deal which ended 13 years of civil war.
That conflict pitted rebels from the majority Hutu people against an army dominated by the Tutsi minority.
Despite the unrest, Nkurunziza, a former Hutu rebel chief, won a landslide victory in July in a vote which as UN observer mission said was neither inclusive, free nor credible.
The Burundian authorities have promised to open political dialogue but have ruled out talks with those behind the protest movement - a ban which effectively applies to almost all opposition figures and civil society leaders both in Burundi and in exile. Playing the ethnic card
An EU official identified those affected by the sanctions as deputy police chief Godefroid Bizimana, senior cabinet official Gervais Ndirakobuca who is responsible for the police, intelligence agent Mathias-Joseph Niyonzima and former general Leonard Ngendakumana.
They were sanctioned over their alleged involvement in repressing the protests.
Nkurunziza's party has already been accused of trying to play the ethnic card, accusing the Tutsis of being responsible for the current crisis.
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The violence has raised widespread fears that the tiny country in the heart of central Africa's troubled Great Lakes region could be plunged back into civil war.
The last civil war in Burundi, which ended in 2006, left at least 300 000 people dead.