Burundi president to register to run for third term as tensions simmer


Burundi’s president will register on Friday to run for a third term, the ruling party said, a move likely to stoke anger among protesters opposing his bid for another five years in office.

Crowds have taken to the streets and regularly clashed with police for almost two weeks, saying Pierre Nkurunziza’s plan to stand again in elections violates the constitution and a peace deal that ended an ethnically charged civil war in 2005.

The constitutional court ruled this week that he could stand, saying his first term did not count because he was picked by parliament not elected by the people. Critics say the court is biased and have vowed to keep up protests.

Asked when the former Hutu rebel leader-turned president would register his candidacy, the chairman of the ruling CNDD-FDD Party, Pascal Nyabenda, replied in a brief text message: “In a few hours.”

Saturday is the deadline for prospective candidates to submit applications to the election commission CENI.

Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term has plunged Burundi into its worst crisis since the end of the civil war that pitted rebels from the ethnic Hutu majority against the then Tutsi-led army and killed about 300,000 people.

It is also raising tensions in a region with a history of ethnic conflict.

Demonstrators in the capital have burnt tires and hurled stones at police, who have fired tear gas, water cannon and, say protesters, live rounds. Police deny shooting.

The streets were calmer on Friday, a Reuters witness said. Local media has in past days reported some protests outside the capital, but these have not been independently confirmed. The government says the nation outside the capital is calm.

Anshere Nikoyagize, head of rights group Ligue ITEKA, said the death toll since protests erupted on April 26 was 17, including civilians and members of the security forces.

More than 50,000 Burundians have fled in past weeks to neighbouring Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said.

Rwanda, with the same ethnic mix as Burundi, has voiced its concern about the unrest. It was victim of a genocide in 1994 in which about 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered.

Leading opposition figure, Agathon Rwasa, who like Nkurunziza led a Hutu militia in the war, plans to run as an independent.

He said registering “may be a very hard exercise” as the 200 witnesses from across the country needed to support his application might not secure required documentation in time. He said the authorities had created obstacles.

The government has promised a free and fair vote.

Rwasa has called for delay in the May parliamentary poll and June presidential election due to the unrest but said votes should take place before Nkurunziza’s term runs out on Aug. 26.