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Tensions as Burundi president Nkurunziza launches contested re-election bid


BUJUMBURA: Burundi's president was Saturday set to declare his controversial bid for re-election during a ruling party congress taking place amid tight security and mounting tensions.



The government of the landlocked central African nation has slapped a nationwide ban on demonstrations, following threats by the opposition and activists to step up protests in order to block President Pierre Nkurunziza's attempt to illegally stay in office.

There are fears that the political crisis, during which Nkurunziza's ruling CNDD-FDD party has been accused of intimidating opponents, could push Burundi back into violence. The country, situated in Africa's troubled Great Lakes region, only emerged from civil war in 2006.

The CNDD-FDD party opened a special congress on Saturday morning, with Nkurunziza expected to be formally anointed as the party's candidate for the June 26 presidential elections.

Nkurunziza, an former rebel leader, born-again Christian and football fanatic, has already served two-terms as president. The opposition say his attempt to seek a third term violates the constitution as well as the peace deal that ended Burundi's civil war.

"Whatever happens, it will be President Nkurunziza, regardless of the consequences," a party official told AFP this week.

Security was tight for the party congress, an AFP reporter said, with delegates undergoing thorough searches before being allowed into the venue. Police and soldiers have also been deployed on the streets of Bujumbura since Friday evening.

An AFP reporter said many residents could be seen doing last-minute shopping an an apparent bid to stockpile supplies just in case unrest breaks out.

In addition to banning all demonstrations, the government has also threatened to call out the army.

The influential Catholic Church has also spoken out against the president's plans to stay put, and earlier this month UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein warned that the country was at a "crossroads" between a fair vote and a route back to its "horrendously violent past".

Burundi's constitution only allows a president to be elected twice -- for a total of 10 years in power -- but Nkurunziza argues he has only been directly elected by the people once.

For his first term, beginning in 2005, he was selected by parliament. The opposition boycotted the last elections in 2010, alleging fraud.

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