May 9, 2015 / 10:34 AM / 4 years ago

Burundi opposition leader to run for presidency; protests pause

BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - Burundi’s leading opposition figure on Saturday registered to run in a coming presidential election against Pierre Nkurunziza, whose quest for a third term has sparked two weeks of protests.

Riot policemen fire teargas at protesters as they clash during demonstrations against plans by Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a third five-year term in office, in Bujumbura, May 8, 2015. REUTERS/Jean Pierre Aime Harerimana

Nineteen people have died in the demonstrations against Nkurunziza’s bid for another term, which opponents say violates the constitution and a peace deal that ended an ethnically-charged civil war in 2005.

“I presented my candidacy to respect Burundi’s constitution and the country’s electoral law,” Agathon Rwasa, who like Nkurunziza led a Hutu militia in the war, told reporters.

“I want to clarify that I have not filed my candidacy to endorse the unconstitutionality of President Nkurunziza. It is a way to block his path as he is obviously forcing to be the single candidate.”

Rwasa has asked the electoral commission to postpone the parliamentary election in May and the June presidential vote, saying it is not possible to hold peaceful and free elections.

Nkurunziza formally registered his candidacy on Friday, provoking a fresh round of protests in Bujumbura that left two people dead. Opposition leaders responded to the deaths by calling for a day-long pause in protests.

There were no signs of unrest in the capital on Saturday, and long queues formed outside shops and banks as people took advantage of the calm to stock up on food and cash.

“We asked protesters to suspend demonstrating for one day before resuming the movement on Sunday,” protest leader Pacifique Nininahazwe said.

Nkurunziza’s bid for a third term has plunged Burundi into its worst unrest since the war, which pitted rebels from the ethnic Hutu majority against the then Tutsi-led army and killed about 300,000 people.

The constitutional court ruled this week Nkurunziza could stand, saying his first term did not count because he had been picked by parliament rather than elected by the people.

Opponents say the court is biased and have vowed to keep protesting until he withdraws from the race. They have called for the election to be delayed because of to the unrest.

More than 50,000 Burundians have fled in recent weeks to neighbouring Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said.

Additional reporting by Njuwa Maina; Writing by Edith Honan; Editing by Andrew Roche

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