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Burundi's president seeks 'unconstitutional' third term

President Pierre Nkurunziza
President Pierre Nkurunziza AFP

Burundi's president was Saturday declared as the ruling party's candidate for a third term in office, despite mounting protests over a move the opposition says is unconstitutional.

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Opposition figures warned that President Pierre Nkurunziza's effort to cling to power could push the central African nation back into violence.

They also vowed to defy a nationwide ban on demonstrations and warnings the army could be deployed. The country, situated in Africa's troubled Great Lakes region, only emerged from civil war in 2006.

There was tight security as the ruling CNDD-FDD -- which has been accused of intimidating opponents -- opened a special party congress on Saturday, during which Nkurunziza was officially designated as the party's candidate.

"We wish to announce to the national and international community that the member who has been selected to represent us in the elections is Pierre Nkurunziza," the head of the ruling CNDD-FDD party, Pascal Nyabenda, announced after a party meeting.

He said Nkurunziza "has the right to be elected" to a third term in the June 26 presidential elections.

Opposition groups say this violates the constitution as well as the peace deal that ended the civil war.

Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader, born-again Christian and football fanatic, has already served two terms as president.

"This third candidacy is illegal, it violates the constitution," said Rights activist Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, president of Burundi's influential campaign group Aprodeh.

"We will demonstrate from tomorrow (Sunday) morning, in silence and without breaking anything," he said, insisting that only peaceful protests are planned.

Ex-rebel turned politician Agathon Rwasa, an opponent of the president, said Nkurunziza "risked plunging Burundi into chaos".

Panic buying

No Western ambassadors were present at the congress -- a sign of unease among key donors over Nkurunziza's bid to stay put. Only the Russian ambassador and several regional diplomats were present.

Delegates underwent thorough searches before being allowed into the venue. Police and soldiers have also been deployed on the streets of Bujumbura since Friday evening.

An AFP reporter said many residents could be seen doing last-minute shopping in an apparent bid to stockpile supplies just in case unrest breaks out.

In addition to banning all demonstrations, the government has also threatened to call out the army.

The influential Catholic Church has also spoken out against the president's plans to stay put, and earlier this month UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein warned that the country was at a "crossroad" between a fair vote and a route back to its "horrendously violent past".

Thousands of Burundians have fled the country in recent weeks to neighbouring Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the UN's refugee agency, which has also warned that the numbers of refugees could swell "with more political tension rising and more acts of violence being reported."

Many are fleeing threats by the pro-government militia Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party. Rights groups allege that the militia has been armed and trained over the past year in order help Nkurunziza stay in office.

Many residents of Bujumbura also left the city for the weekend, amid fears of violent clashes.

Burundi's constitution only allows a president to be elected twice -- for a total of 10 years in power -- but Nkurunziza argues he has only been directly elected by the people once.

For his first term, beginning in 2005, he was selected by parliament. The opposition boycotted the last elections in 2010, alleging fraud.

(AFP)

 

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