One of Burundi’s vice presidents has fled to Belgium, saying he had been threatened after denouncing President Pierre Nkurunziza’s quest for a third term in office, in remarks the government dismissed.
Gervais Rufyikiri, who held the post of second vice president, is the latest senior official to flee in recent weeks, as Nkurunziza’s bid for what opponents say is an unconstitutional third term has plunged Burundi into its worst crisis since an ethnically charged civil war ended in 2005.
In May, the vice president of Burundi’s election commission and a senior judge fled amid protests demanding Nkurunziza stand down. He has refused to change tack, citing a court ruling that found he was allowed to seek another term.
“I took the decision to leave the country because I was personally threatened,” Rufyikiri told France 24 television from Belgium on Wednesday. “All who are against the third term are threatened. I personally was fearing for my security since I saw some signals.”
Presidential spokesman Gervais Abayeho said there was no threat to Rufyikiri, who had simply “expressed an opinion”.
Protests against the president erupted on April 26, a day after he announced his bid. For weeks, stone-throwing demonstrators clashed with police, who were seen shooting at them. Rallies have since petered out although the mood remains unsettled.
The United Nations, African states and Western nations have called for dialogue to ease tensions in a region with a history of ethnic conflict. Talks between rival camps so far have shown little sign of bridging differences.
Both the presidential vote, now scheduled for July 15, and a parliamentary election due on June 29 were delayed by several weeks due to unrest.
A prominent Burundi rights group, led by an activist who opposes the third-term bid, said last week that the death toll since protests erupted was at least 70. The president’s ruling CNDD-FDD party has put the toll at more than 40.