BUJUMBURA, Burundi (AP) — Burundi's constitutional court on Tuesday validated the president's controversial bid for a third term but the deputy president of the court, who fled to Rwanda ahead of the ruling, called it unconstitutional.
The ruling came amid prolonged demonstrations against President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to seek a third term. At least nine people have been killed in violent confrontations with the police since last week, according to the Burundi Red Cross. Scores have been wounded.
Burundi's constitution says the president should be elected by universal direct suffrage for a mandate of five years, renewable one time.
Nkurunziza was first installed as president in 2005 by parliament to lead a transitional government. He won the 2010 presidential election as the sole candidate. Nkurunziza argued
In its judgment Tuesday, the constitutional court ruled that "the renewal one last time of the current presidential term by direct universal suffrage for five years is not contrary to the Constitution."
However the court's Deputy President Sylvere Nimpagaritse disagreed with the decision and was so afraid of the consequences that he joined more than 20,000 Burundians who have fled to Rwanda fearing political violence. He said would not rubber-stamp an endorsement of Nkurunziza's re-election bid.
"As a Burundian and custodian of the law, my conscience could not allow me to be part of something all Burundians were standing up against, something that violates the constitution and the pillars upon which peace was achieved in Burundi," Nimpagaritse told The Associated Press in a phone interview from Rusizi, Rwanda.
Whether Nkurunziza could constitutionally seek a third term is debatable, because he was not elected by direct suffrage for his first term.
The U.S. has criticized Nkurunziza's decision to seek a third term. Speaking in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry told reporters on Monday: "We are deeply concerned about President Nkurunziza's decision, which flies directly in the face of the constitution of his country."
Edmund Kagire in Kigali, Rwanda, and Rodney Muhumuza in Kampala, Uganda, contributed to this report.