Burundi's ruling party has nominated President Pierre Nkurunziza for a constitutionally questionable third term, amid fears that the move could reignite violence in a country still recovering from years of civil war.
Critics claim the country's 2005 constitution precludes the incumbent from serving a third term, while Nkurunziza's supporters argue that two-term limitations apply only to presidents elected by popular vote. They point out that the incumbent was elected by parliament to a five-year first term in 2005, and they insist that he remains eligible for a total of two full terms under universal suffrage provisions in the new national charter.
In comments to VOA's Central Africa service, ruling party chief Pascal Nyabenda said, "Pierre Nkurunziza was overwhelmingly chosen as our flag bearer. He has the right, according to the constitution, to run."
Late Saturday, the U.S. State Department sided with the opposition, saying that "the United States deeply regrets" the nomination put forward by the ruling National Council for the Defense of Democracy-Forces for the Defense of Democracy, or CNDD-FDD party. Spokeswoman Marie Harf said the nomination "disregards" the term-limit provisions of the Arusha Accords of 2000 that formally ended the Burundan civil war.
Harf also called on all parties in Burundi to abide by the nonviolence charter signed early last month, and "to refrain from hate speech and other provocations."
Harf's statement came a short while after opposition leader Leonce Ngendakumana, the head of the Democratic Alliance for Change, called the Nkurunziza nomination "bad news for the nation." He said the nomination had "basically killed the Arusha peace accords and the country's constitution. It is illegal for him to run."
The opposition was expected to launch protests Sunday, despite warnings that the army could be deployed to contain them.
Thierry Vircoulon, the Central Africa director of the International Crisis Group, said this month that the political tensions in the runup to upcoming elections "is the conclusion of the five years of Mr. Nkurunziza's second term," which he said had been characterized "by political intolerance and repression."
Human rights groups have also accused the ruling party of arming its youth wing, known as the Imbonerakure, and using its members to attack opponents in the past.