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Burundi's president seeks controversial third term

In a move threatening to stoke political tensions, Burundi's president is seeking a third term in office. Opposition leaders have warned such an attempt would destabilize the country and inflame ethnic tensions.

Burundi's ruling party nominated President Pierre Nkurunziza as its candidate for a third term Saturday, threatening to further inflame political and ethnic tensions in the East African country.

Nkurunziza was nominated unanimously and unopposed during a retreat for party leaders, prompting armed police to be immediately deployed on the streets of Bujumbura, Burundi's capital.

"No one will stop the CNDD-FDD party," Nkurunziza said after being nominated.

"I call people to go to the election in peace," the president said. "But I would like to warn everyone: whoever wants to create problems with the ruling party elected by the people, he'll find himself in trouble."

Presidents are constitutionally barred in Burundi from seeking a third term in office, but Nkurunziza supporters say he is eligible for a third term because he was not elected president his first term in 2005 by popular vote, but by lawmakers.

Before the nomination was announced, opposition leader Agathon Rwasa implored Nkurunziza not to seek a third term in office, warning such an attempt would destabilize the country and threaten to reignite tensions stemming from an ethnically-fuelled civil war that ended in 2005.

But Rwasa said he was not calling for demonstrations now in order to avoid giving the ruling party a reason to "harass and persecute people."

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein has said Burundi risks "violence and intimidation aimed at subverting democracy for the sake of gaining or maintaining political power.

The move drew a sharp rebuke from the United States, which said it "deeply regrets the decision."

Burundische Flüchtlinge in Ruanda

More than 10,000 Burundians have fled the country to neighboring Rwanda, fearing election violence.

"With this decision, Burundi is losing a historic opportunity to strengthen its democracy by establishing the tradition of peaceful democratic transition," the US State Department said in a statement.

Violence feared

Opposition groups have called for Nkrurnziza to retire, with some staging street protests against the incumbent President. Police have broken up these rallies with force.

Nkurunziza's CNDD-FDD party grew out of the Hutu rebel movement, and a flare-up in Burundi could threaten to draw in neighboring Rwanda, where 800,000 primarily Tutsis and moderate Hutus were killed by Hutu extremists in a 1994 genocide.

More than 10,000 Burundi residents have fled the country to Rwanda out of fear the election would lead to violence. Many who fled say they left because they were pressured to support Nkurunziza's party, or because of alleged violence by the party's youth wing.

bw/bk (Reuters, AP, AFP)

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