Burundi’s constitutional court is to examine the legality of President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term, the Senate has said, after three days of political unrest that has left at least five people dead.
Venant Barubike, private secretary to the Senate president, told the AFP news agency that a motion had been submitted to the court seeking an interpretation of key articles related to a possible presidential third term.
Nkurunziza, 55, became president in 2005 and is planning to seek re-election in polls slated for June, a move that contravenes Burundi’s constitution, which allows only two five-year terms.
Supporters of Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader and born-again Christian from the Hutu majority, say that although he has served two terms, he was elected by parliament for his first term and not directly by voters, making him eligible for a third term.
Opposition leaders said they would press ahead with the protests, dismissing what they said was a court loyal to the president.
Human rights activist Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa, who was arrested overnight on Monday before being released on Tuesday after calling for protests, also said any ruling would not be impartial.
“The constitutional court is composed of the darlings of Pierre Nkurunziza, and they do not refuse him anything,” said Mbonimpa.
“Civil society does not accept the constitutional court as arbitrator, we continue to support the protests.”
‘Sympathy’ with protests
At least five people have died in protests that erupted at the weekend after the ruling CNDD-FDD party endorsed Nkurunziza as its candidate for the presidential election to be held in the central African nation on June 26.
Opposition figures and rights groups say Nkurunziza’s bid for a third consecutive term does not only go against the constitution but it is also in breach of the peace deal that ended a civil war in 2006.
Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the 13-year conflict, which divided the country along ethnic lines, between the Hutu majority and minority Tutsis.
African Union Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has welcomed the move, saying she was “pleased to note that the Burundi Senate has taken the third-term question to the constitutional court,” adding that “it must decide responsibly”.
The unrest has led to the intervention of the UN and the US, with both sending envoys to Burundi to try to end the violence.
Tom Malinowski, US assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights and labour, announced on his Twitter feed on Wednesday that he was travelling to Burundi in a bid to resolve the crisis.
“On my way to Burundi. Disappointed President Nkurunziza violating Arusha Accord,” Malinowski wrote, adding it was not too late for the leadership and people to keep to a “peaceful democratic path”.
On Tuesday, the government told ambassadors at a meeting in Burundi, including the US envoy, to stay neutral and said some were showing “a lot of sympathy” with protest organisers.