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Burundi court approves president's bid for third term

Burundi's constitutional court has cleared the way for President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a third term, the legality of which has been under a cloud. The issue has plunged Burundi into violence.

The court said Tuesday that Nkurunziza (pictured above) may seek one more five-year term in upcoming elections in June. The ruling accepts Nkurunziza's argument that his first term did not count, as he was elected by the parliament in 2005 - and not the people, as the constitution specifies.

Presidents in Burundi, a small landlocked country in central Africa, are constitutionally barred from seeking a third term in office.

The court's vice president fled the country shortly before the ruling, citing the "enormous pressure and even death threats" from senior figures to rubber-stamp the disputed candidature of Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader.

Shortly before leaving, Judge Sylvere Nimpagaritse claimed a majority of the court's seven judges believed it would be unconstitutional for Nkurunziza to stand again.

"In my soul and conscience I decided not to put my signature to a ruling, a decision which is clearly not lawful that would be imposed from the outside, and which has nothing legal about it," Nimpagaritse told news agency AFP.

Tuesday's judgment was signed by six out of seven judges.

It said Nkurunziza's bid to stand for another term "by direct universal suffrage for five years, is not contrary to the constitution of Burundi." The Senate, controlled by the president's ruling CNDD-FDD party, had asked the court to decide on his candidacy.

There has been huge opposition to Nkurunziza's bid, with 10 days of battles between police and demonstrators killing at least nine people. At least another 600 have been arrested.

New protests have been staged around the country, with demonstrators saying the fact not all judges approved the ruling made it invalid.

Vice President Prosper Bazombanza promised to release protesters and reopen independent radio stations if the demonstrations stopped.

"To create a climate of appeasement, the government is willing to release the young people who were arrested," Bazombanza said.

Critics say Nkurunziza's bid defies the constitution and the Arusha peace agreement which ended a 13-year civil war between Tutsis and Hutus in Burundi 10 years ago.

US Secretary of State John Kerry warned on Monday he was "deeply concerned" about Nkurunziza's decision to stand again, saying it "flies directly in the face of the constitution of his country."

jr/kms (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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