March 26, 2015 / 12:27 PM / 3 years ago

Burundi ruling party officials ask president to drop third term quest

BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - Dozens of senior officials in Burundi’s ruling party have urged President Pierre Nkurunziza to abandon a quest for a third term this June to avoid renewed violence in the landlocked central African nation.

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza attends the opening of a coffee conference in the capital Bujumbura February 13, 2014. REUTERS/Jean Pierre Aime Harerimana

Some 79 members of the CNDD-FDD Party wrote to Nkurunziza on Monday, a spokesman for the group said on Thursday, joining a rising chorus of critics saying he cannot run again under the terms of a 2000 deal to end years of fighting between Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups.

The party responded by sacking 10 initial signatories, including Nkurunziza’s spokesman, the party’s spokesman, three members of parliament and a provincial governor, newly-appointed CNDD-FDD spokesman Gelase Ndabirabe said.

“The issue about a third term for the current president continues to raise tension and divide the Burundian people,” Festus Ntanyungu, a lawmaker who spoke on behalf of 79 senior officials of Hutu CNDD-FDD, told Reuters.

“For the sake of peace and to avoid violence, we asked ... Nkurunziza to drop any attempt for another third term.”

Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete said last week on a visit to Burundi that violating the legal limit on the president’s term would spark violence that would be hard to stop.

Tanzania brokered the deal in 2000, which limited the president to two five-year terms in office and helped to end years of ethnic conflict in the tiny coffee growing nation of nearly 10 million people.

A visiting U.N. Security Council delegation two weeks ago also appealed for strict adherence to the constitution to consolidate the fragile peace in the country

Nkurunziza has not said if he will run, but supporters argue the former rebel leader can because he was selected by lawmakers rather than voted into office in 2005 for his first term.

Willy Nyamitwe, a top communication adviser in Nkurunziza’s office, said there was no need for him to respond to the letter.

“The president can’t give any answer to that letter, because he has never said that he will be a candidate,” he said.

Editing by George Obulutsa and Tom Heneghan

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