By Patrick Nduwimana
BUJUMBURA – Burundi’s constitutional court approved President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office on Tuesday, a ruling promptly dismissed as biased by opponents who said they would continue protests until he backed down.
The opposition says Nkurunziza’s plan to stand in a June election violates the constitution and a peace deal that ended a civil war that pitted the ethnic Hutu majority against the Tutsi minority from 1993 to 2005.
More than a week of protests have plunged the African nation into its worst crisis since that conflict. Civil society groups say a dozen people have been killed, while more than 30,000 have fled to neighbouring states fearing renewed ethnic violence.
“The renewal of the presidential term through direct universal suffrage for five years is not against the constitution of Burundi,” a constitutional court statement said.
The government has urged protesters to accept the ruling and stop demonstrating. Nkurunziza, a former Hutu rebel leader, has called the protests an “insurrectional movement”.
But opposition parties said the court ruling was unfair and protesters denounced it.
“The first term we accepted. The second term we accepted. We will never accept the third term,” the demonstrators shouted outside a hotel where the government met opponents, civil society groups and diplomats. Police soon pushed them away.
“We don’t care about the constitutional court decision because we know this court is manipulated,” said Jean Minani, leader of Frodebu-Nyakuri party, part of one coalition behind the protests. He said rallies would not stop until the president backed down.