One of Burundi’s Vice President Gervais Rufyikiri has fled the country, claiming his life was in danger. According to media reports, Rufikyiri, who said that a third term for President Pierre Nkurunziza was unconstitutional, fled to Belgium, even as officials back home claimed he had gone on ‘official duty’.
If Mr Rufikyiri’s departure is confirmed, he will become one of a handful of top government officials to flee the troubled central African country; Constitutional Court vice president justice Sylvere Nimpagaritse sneaked out in early May, just as the court was about to pronounce itself on the legal issues surrounding Nkurunziza’s presidential bid, while a senior official at the country’s electoral body also fled shortly after.
In the past few months Burundi has been embroiled in persistent turmoil following the President’s announcement that he would seek re-election in the polls that were earlier slated for June 15, but have since been rescheduled for July 15.
However, Nkurunziza’s announcement was met with stiff resistance, with several people flooding the streets of Bujumbura to protest. The protests culminated in a temporary coup led by a former intelligence chief, Maj Gen Godefroid Niyombare, staged on May 13.
At the time president Nkurunziza was in Dar es Salaam attending the East African Community Heads of State Summit on the crisis in his country. However, forces loyal to Nkurunziza were to recapture his seat the next day Thursday 14 and landing in his home area of Ngozi, in the north of the country, after which he made a triumphant return to Bujumbura on Friday, May 15.
After his return, tens of protesters were arraigned before court and charged with attempting to overthrow the government, with top coup plotters, former defence minister Gen Cyrille Ndayirukiye and Police Commissioners Herman Ndabaneze and Hermenegilde Nimenya leading the pack in the courtroom.
A former rebel leader, Nkurunziza has led Burundi since 2005, after the belligerent forces in the country agreed to lay down arms following peace talks held in the northern Tanzanian town of Arusha.