Burundi Holds Presidential Vote After 77 Die in Protests

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Pierre Nkurunziza
Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza arrives at Prince Rwagasore Stadium in Bujumbura. Photographer: Marco Longari/AFP/Getty Images

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza is set to stand for re-election on Tuesday after opponents said his decision to do so breached an agreement not to seek a third term and sparked protests in which 77 people have died.

The African Union and the U.S. have criticized Burundi for allowing the polls to go ahead. Government forces have been attacked in the north of the country in raids the military says were carried out by suspected rebels.

“With the insurgency now ongoing in the country, a victory for President Nkurunziza may result in continued violence and insecurity in Burundi for the foreseeable future,” Yolande Bouka, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies in Kenya’s capital, Nairobi, said in an e-mailed response to questions.

The unrest in Burundi has the potential to destabilize the Great Lakes region that includes the Democratic Republic of Congo, Africa’s top copper and tin producer, and Rwanda, where the economy is still recovering from a genocide in 1994. More than 100,000 people have fled to neighboring countries in the past three months. Civil wars in the early 1990s in Burundi and Rwanda helped lay the ground for conflict in neighboring Congo, the deadliest war in the continent’s modern history.

Opponents say Nkurunziza’s attempt to extend his tenure violates a two-term limit set out in deals that in 2005 brought an end to a civil war in which 300,000 people died. The United Nations said parliamentary elections held on June 29 weren’t free or fair.

‘Major Instability’

The presidential vote is likely to cause “major instability and confrontations” that may spread across the region, the UN human-rights agency said last week.

A pro-government militia known as the Imbonerakure has committed human-rights violations with people who fled the violence giving accounts of executions and torture, according to the UN.

Nkurunziza, 51, will compete with at least three other contenders, including Gerard Nduwayo from Uprona, the former ruling party, and Jacques Bigirimana from a faction of the National Forces of Liberation.

While the election board said eight candidates will stand, three of those named -- Jean Minani from the Frodebu Nyakuri party, and former presidents Sylvestre Ntibantunganya and Domitien Ndayizeye -- said they were withdrawing their candidacy because the government wasn’t letting them campaign freely, according to a joint statement shown to Bloomberg by Minani.

Agathon Rwasa, who had been set to run for an opposition coalition, said on Monday he wouldn’t participate because the elections had been “poorly organized.” Last week, Rwasa’s spokesman said his coalition wasn’t ready to join parliament even after it won 30 seats in the legislative elections.

‘No Legitimacy’

“If the government persists in holding presidential elections under the current circumstances -– something even the former first vice president objected to after also having fled the country -– they will in no way confer any legitimacy on the to-be-elected authorities,” UN human-rights special rapporteurs said on July 16.

Burundi, about the size of the U.S. state of Maryland, has a $2.7 billion economy and is home to 10.2 million people. It’s the continent’s seventh-biggest coffee exporter and buyers of its beans include Starbucks Corp. The country also holds 6 percent of the world’s nickel reserves, according to the African Development Bank.

About 11,500 polling stations nationwide will open between 6 a.m. and 4 p.m Tuesday, Prosper Ntahorwamiye, an electoral board official, said in a July 18 interview in the capital, Bujumbura.

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