Burundi president defies critics to files third term bid

Burundi's president files candidacy for third term

Bujumbura (Burundi) (AFP) - Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza filed his candidacy for a third term in office Friday, assuring elections set for June would "go well" despite deadly protests over his bid to extend his 10-year rule.

Nkurunziza smiled as he became the first candidate to register for the June 26 polls, shrugging off international pressure not to run and dismissing fears of a mounting crisis.

At least 18 people have been killed, including protesters and police, and scores been wounded since late April, when the ruling CNDD-FDD nominated Nkurunziza to stand for reelection, triggering daily protests.

"These demonstrations have turned into insurrection, but it is something that will be controlled shortly, and I assure you that the elections will go well," Nkurunziza said, as he handed over the documents needed to the electoral commission, surrounded by supporters.

Opposition parties and civil society groups say Nkurunziza's third-term bid violates the constitution, which limits a president to two terms in office, and the accords that ended a 13-year civil war between Tutsis and Hutus in 2006.

On Friday evening, one of the main protest leaders, Pacifique Nininahazwe, told AFP that demonstrations would be suspended for one day on Saturday.

"The collective against the third term announces that there is a one-day truce on Saturday," said Nininahazwe. "The protests will resume on Sunday."

Nininahazwe said the pause in demonstrations would let people "stock up on supplies" and allow the dead to be buried "with honour".

Saturday's promised truce was the first sign of a concession from the protesters, after two weeks of street battles with the police, in which scores of people have been injured.

On Friday evening, a senior police commander said the authorities had received orders to dismantle "all" the opposition's barricades.

In the capital's Nyakabiga neighbourhood police used a bulldozer to clear roadblocks, igniting renewed clashes with stone-throwing protesters.

The police used tear gas and water cannon to break up the demonstration, which came after a day of relative quiet.

- 'Burundi is at peace' -

Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader from the Hutu majority who has been in power since 2005, has come under intense international pressure to bow out at next month's election.

African Union Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma said Thursday it was "clear that there shouldn't be a third term" for the incumbent.

The head of the European Union's election monitoring mission in the country, David Martin, expressed concern over the climate of violence.

Referring to the president's stated plan to end the protests, Martin said the "prohibition and repression of peaceful demonstrations expressing legitimate concerns" would violate the conditions necessary for "a credible and transparent" vote.

The president of neighbouring Rwanda, Paul Kagame, criticised his Burundian counterpart.

"If your own citizens tell you 'We do not want you to do that or to lead us', maybe they're saying you haven't done enough for them," Kagame told a convention in Switzerland.

US Secretary of State John Kerry has also criticised Nkurunziza's desire to cling to power.

Dressed in a grey suit, the embattled Nkurunziza said Friday the current crisis was "nothing compared to what we experienced in 1993-1994", referring to the start of the civil war.

"It is something which concerns only some areas of Bujumbura... in the rest of the country people go quietly about their work, more than 99 percent of the territory of Burundi is at peace," he said.

East African leaders are to hold an emergency meeting on the crisis on May 13 in Tanzania.

Burundi's Constitutional Court has dismissed objections over Nkurunziza's re-election bid, saying his first presidential term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people.

The court's vice-president, however, fled the country after refusing to sign the judgement, claiming judges had been subjected to death threats.

- Opposition doubtful of deal -

The government and opposition met Friday to discuss a resolution to the crisis, but civil society leaders said they were sceptical an agreement could be found quickly.

"The only thing we agree on is a delay to the electoral calendar," one civil society leader said, asking not be named.

The United Nations special envoy for the Great Lakes region, Said Djinnit, appealed Thursday for calm.

"Everything must be done to avoid any escalation that could undermine peace and stability of the country," Djinnit said in Bujumbura, where he attempted to mediate an end to the standoff.

Djinnit warned that perpetrators of acts of violence could be hauled before "national and international" courts.

The chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Fatou Bensouda, said in a statement Friday her office was "closely following" events in Burundi.

"Any person who incites or engages in acts of mass violence... is liable to prosecution before the Court," she said.