As protests against Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term in office entered a second week, top politicians and local leaders are fleeing the country.
Among those include Sylvère Nimpagaritse, the vice-president of Burundian Constitutional Court, who arrived in Rwanda yesterday evening and was still in Rusizi District by press time.
His arrival was confirmed by Rusizi mayor Frederick Harerimana.
“It’s true, Nimpagaritse is on our territory, we are yet to meet him but all indications are that he has fled the unrest,” Harerimana told The New Times.
Nimpagaritse fled a day before Burundi’s constitutional court could examine the legality of President Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term.
Opposition has been dismissive of what they said was a court loyal to the president, and have vowed to continue protests.
At least 12 people have been killed since protests broke out on April 26, according to the Red Cross. At least two people reportedly died yesterday when protests resumed after a quiet weekend.
Protests erupted a week go after the ruling CNDD-FDD party designated Nkurunziza its candidate for the presidential election to be held on June 26.
Nimpagaritse arrived in Rwanda a few days after Member of Parliament Thomas Bukuru and two communal bourgmestres (mayors) Gaudose Niyonsaba and Basile Ndereyimana of Gisagara and Mushiha communes, respectively, also fled, crossing into Rwanda.
“Tension keeps rising, anyone opposed to the third term project is at risk. I was working out of town while my wife and children were staying in Nyakabinga, which is the centre of protests, I had to evacuate them,” he said.
Opposition figures and rights groups say Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term goes against the constitution as well as the 2000 Arusha peace deal that ended a civil war.
However, President Nkurunziza’s supporters say he is eligible to run again, given that he was elected to his first term by parliament -- not directly by the people.
The Burundian constitution grants a one five-year presidential mandate renewable only once.
Meanwhile, human rights activist Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa told journalists in the capital Bujumbura, yesterday, that the constitutional court was not be impartial since most of its members are ‘darlings’ of President Nkurunziza.
“The constitutional court is composed of the darlings of Pierre Nkurunziza, and they do not refuse him anything. Civil society does not accept the constitutional court as arbitrator, we continue to support the protests,” said Mbonimpa.
The crisis has forced thousands of Burundians to flee their country. Rwanda has so far registered about 25,000 refugees.
According to the refugees, they fled after harassment from the ruling party’s youth wing called imbonerakure.