By Staff Reporter
Burundian Vice President Gervais Rufyikiri fled the country and backed opposition demands that President Pierre Nkurunziza withdraw his bid for a third term in office to end a political crisis in the country.
Rufyikiri, a second vice president in charge of the East African nation’s economy, said Nkurunziza’s plan to extend his decade-long rule is illegal under the constitution. The 50-year-old Rufyikiri, appointed in 2010, said he was threatened by “government agents” before leaving Burundi last week.
“I left Burundi because was no longer able to support the attitude of the president of the republic, his desire to lead the people of Burundi on the path of constitutional illegality,” Rufyikiri said in an interview with France 24 broadcast on Wednesday.
Burundi has been roiled by almost two months of unrest sparked by Nkurunziza’s decision to seek re-election in a vote that’s been rescheduled for July 15. Opponents say his bid to extend his tenure violates a two-term limit set out in peace agreements that in 2005 brought an end to a 12-year civil war.
Seven people were wounded in three grenade attacks by unidentified assailants in the capital, Bujumbura, Thursday morning, deputy police spokesman Pierre Nkurikiye said by phone. Authorities are searching for the perpetrators, he said.
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.
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.
At least 77 people have been killed and more than 1,000 detained in protests since late April, a Burundian human-rights group said last week. The country is set to hold parliamentary elections on Monday.
More than 100,000 refugees have fled to neighboring countries since early April, fearing political violence, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency. About 92 Burundians per day arrived in Uganda, which doesn’t share a border with the country, in the week to June 22, the World Food Programme said.