Burundian President Registers for Re-Election as Tensions Mount

Burundi President Pierre Nkurunziza registered to seek re-election after two weeks of violent protests against his bid to stay in office and rising tensions that have forced 50,000 people to flee to neighboring countries.

East African Community leaders plan to hold a summit next week to discuss the crisis in Burundi and the African Union has said it won’t be possible to hold elections in the current environment. At least 14 people have died in street demonstrations since Nkurunziza’s CNDD-FDD party last month nominated him to run in a presidential vote set for June 26. The country is due to hold parliamentary elections on May 26.

The balloting will take place on schedule, Nkurunziza said on Friday in Bujumbura, the capital and the center of the protests, after formally declaring his candidacy.

Critics of Nkurunziza says his decision violates a two-term presidential limit stipulated in a 2005 peace deal to end a 12-year ethnic conflict that left 300,000 people dead. The U.S. is considering whether to impose visa bans and other targeted measures against organizers of the violence, Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said on Friday in New York. Power also expressed concern about the supply of weapons to youths and militias supporting Nkurunziza.

Violent Turmoil

“Burundi is sliding into violent turmoil,” Power told reporters after a closed-door UN Security Council meeting on Burundi.

Rwanda, which experienced a genocide in 1994 that killed about 800,000 people mainly from the Tutsi ethnic group, has received the largest number of refugees at more than 25,000, the UN Refugee Agency said on Friday. The Rwandan government has raised the alarm about the ethnic strife in Burundi and said foreign intervention may be needed to restore order.

Rising violence will also hurt trade in Rwanda, which counts Burundi as the second-largest importer of its goods, Rwandan Trade Minister Francois Kanimba said on Friday.

International Criminal Court Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in an e-mailed statement on Friday that she will closely monitor the country in the coming weeks and is prepared to open an official investigation if the conflict escalates.

Heads of state from the five-nation East African Community -- Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi -- will meet in Tanzania on May 13 to discuss the situation in Burundi.

Burundi holds 6 percent of the world’s nickel reserves, according to the African Development Bank. The landlocked country is one of world’s poorest with about 90 percent of its 11 million people relying on subsistence farming to survive.

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