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Burundi President Registers to Run for Third Term as Tensions Simmer

A protester holds a placard at a rally opposing Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third five-year term in office, in Bujumbura, May 4, 2015.
A protester holds a placard at a rally opposing Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third five-year term in office, in Bujumbura, May 4, 2015.

Burundi's president registered on Friday to run for a third term, much to the dismay of his opponents who say the president's plan violates the country's constitution, which allows only two terms.

The move could fuel further protests of his regime which have turned violent in recent days.

President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision became official as the incumbent submitted his candidacy papers to the electoral commission.

Opposition member Jean Minani told VOA that Nkurunziza's bid is against the law and the Arusha agreement signed to end Burundi's civil war.

"It's unconstitutional, it's illegal and illegitimate," he said. "He must abandon his mission so that they can come together and talk about how the election can take place."

Minani also called on the president to pull back the Imbonerakure militia, the youth wing of the ruling party, which is accused of using violence and intimidation against Nkurunziza's opponents.

Gelase Ndabirabe, spokesman for the ruling CNDD-FDD party, says the president is powerless and that the party told him to run.

"Nkurunziza doesn't have power, the population are with the CNDD-FDD," he said. "They are the ones who have put him forward him to run. When CNDD-FDD party elects you, you cannot say no. Yes, there is also constitution but the constitutional court have allowed him to run, and as I have (said) the party has put him forward to run."

Burundi's constitutional court ruled Tuesday that Nkurunziza is eligible to run because his first term came through an election by parliament, not the voters.

Independent presidential candidate Agathon Rwasa says regardless of the court's ruling, the president and his party must respect the laws that ended the civil war and put them in the positions they hold today.

"Nkurunziza must understand that, if Arusha agreement was not there he wouldn't have become president of Burundi," Rwasa said. "These officers of the police and army from CNDD-FDD would not have become officers in these structures. I am telling you the truth -- they were in Congo, others were in Tanzania, and others were in Europe, they were not fighting after all."

On Wednesday, Nkurunziza vowed that if he is re-elected, it will be his last term. He also called for an end to the protests, saying it is important that the coming elections be held in a peaceful atmosphere.

Some politicians have expressed fears that if Nkurunziza is allowed to run again nothing will stop him from extending his rule again in the future. The president is 51-years-old.

Former interim president Domicien Ndayizeye, who was involved in bringing peace to the country, says it was easy to negotiate with armed men but political disputes are hard to solve.

"This is more difficult to negotiate because first of all, there is Arusha agreement and we have a constitution, and interpretation of the current government is not the same like the opposition, and we think of course that the government is wrong on that issue," Ndayizeye said.

On Friday, United Nations representatives met with opposition members, civil society groups and religious leaders in hopes of calming the situation. Protests over the past two weeks have often flared up into violence, killing at least a dozen people.

The five-nation East Africa Community has organized a summit in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania next week to discuss the situation.