Sitting president’s decision to seek third term prompts public protests and police crackdown, resulting in deaths.
The Burundian Constitutional Court was forced to validate President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid to seek a third term in office, an exiled judge has said.
Judges met on April 30 and found that Nkurunziza was not eligible to run for another term, said Constitutional Court Vice President Sylvere Nimpagaritse, who is in exile in neighbouring Rwanda.
He said after that decision, the judges received threatening phone calls, which forced him to flee. The remaining judges then changed their decision in Nkurunziza’s favour.
“If we did not give the third term a green light, we were going to be in trouble,” Nimpagaritse said.
There was no immediate response from the Burundian government to the judge’s claims.
Nkurunziza has said the court had found that his bid for a third term in the June 26 election does not contradict the constitution since he was selected by parliament and not by popular election for his first term in 2005.
Protesters say his re-election bid is illegal and goes against the 2006 peace deal signed in neighbouring Tanzania, which ended the 13-year conflict.
Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the violence, which divided the country along ethnic lines, between the Hutu majority – to which Nkurunziza belongs – and minority Tutsis.
Protests have rocked Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital, since the ruling party announced on April 25 that it had nominated Nkurunziza as its presidential candidate.
Three people were killed in protests on Thursday and 13 left wounded, according to the Burundi Red Cross.
Thursday’s deaths bring the number of people killed in the protests to at least 13 and 216 wounded since April 25.
More than 30,000 Burundians have fled to neighbouring countries, fearing political violence.
Protesters searched for and assaulted people suspected to be members of the ruling party’s violent youth group on Thursday.
The violence has led to the intervention of the US, which sent Assistant Secretary of State Tom Malinowski to Burundi last week to try to help halt the escalating unrest and resolve the country’s biggest crisis in years.