April 22, 2015 / 11:45 AM / 3 years ago

Burundi party to decide at weekend if president runs again

NAIROBI (Reuters) - Burundi’s ruling CNDD-FDD will hold a party congress this weekend to decide whether President Pierre Nkurunziza will seek a third five-year term, a move that the opposition and diplomats worry could trigger fresh unrest in the 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

“It will be on Saturday,” CNDD-FDD party president Pascal Nyabenda told Reuters in a short phone message when asked about the date for the congress. He also confirmed the party would vote that day on whether Nkurunziza will be the candidate.

Opponents say a another term would violate a 10-year limit outlined in the constitution and an agreement that ended a 12-year civil war in 2005. His backers say his first term does not count because he was picked by lawmakers and not voted in.

Some opponents have already held street protests against a possible third term. Scuffles erupted on Friday last week in the capital, as protesters threw stones and police fired tear gas.

The ruling party said such protests were unjustified until a decision was taken on whether Nkurunziza would run.

Candidates must register from May 1-9. The presidential election is in June, after parliamentary and local council polls in May.

Regional leaders have urged the president to stick to the limit. The United States and the European Union have indicated they could take steps against anyone causing violence. Diplomats say the president seems to be ignoring pressure.

Agathon Rwasa, a presidential hopeful who like Nkurunziza led a rebel faction during the civil war and is now a leading opposition politician, told Reuters on Sunday that more protests would follow if the president did not step down.

Burundi’s civil war broadly pitted the army, then dominated by the ethnic Tutsi minority, against rebel groups of mostly majority Hutus. The army now includes both ethnic groups and has absorbed rival factions.

Rwasa and Nkurunziza led different Hutu factions in the war against the Tutsi-led army.

Rwasa said there was a risk the army could fracture if the political crisis deepened and some politicians or groups could try to play on ethnic tensions. He added that ethnicity was not to blame for the mismanagement and other ills currently plaguing the nation of 10 million

Additional reporting by Patrick Nduwimana in Bujumbura; Editing by John Stonestreet and Andrew Heavens

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