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Outgoing Burundian president Pierre Nkurunziza dies

Tuesday June 9, 2020

NAIROBI (Reuters) - President Pierre Nkurunziza, who ruled the impoverished and unstable central African nation of Burundi for 15 years, has died, the government announced on Tuesday.

“The government of the Republic of Burundi announced with great sadness ... the unexpected death of his Excellency Pierre Nkurunziza, President of Burundi,” it said in a tweeted statement, adding that he had died of a heart attack.

Burundi’s economy is in tatters and it is largely cut off by international donors after the United Nations documented the widespread rape, torture and murder of political opponents by ruling party activists and the state security forces.
Nkurunziza was due to stand down in August, when retired general Evariste Ndayishimiye, who successfully stood for the ruling party in last month’s elections, was due to take over. The opposition said the elections were marred by rigging and violence, charges the government denied.

Nkurunziza would have preferred his ally Pascal Nyabenda, the president of the national assembly, to succeed him, according to a briefing by the International Crisis Group think tank, but the generals successfully lobbied for Ndayishimiye.

According to Burundi’s constitution, Nyabenda is now supposed to take over until Ndayishimiye starts his seven-year term.


Journalists and human rights workers are routinely targeted in Burundi. Last week, four journalists from the domestic news website Iwacu were sentenced to two and a half years in prison after they travelled to investigate reports of unrest in the northwest of the country.

Burundi withdrew from the International Criminal Court in 2017, shut down the United Nations office on human rights last year, and expelled the representative of the World Health Organisation last month amid criticism of the government’s handling of the new coronavirus pandemic. It has carried out very few tests and held large rallies during the election period.

“As I learn of the passing of Pierre Nkurunziza, I think of the thousands of lives that his regime cut short. The families that won’t see justice,” tweeted Thierry Uwamahoro, a democracy activist and prominent government critic who lives in exile.
It was unclear exactly when Nkurunziza died at a hospital in Karuzi in central Burundi. The statement said he had watched a game of volleyball on Saturday but fell ill that night and was taken to hospital.

His health improved on Sunday and he spoke to people but “surprisingly, on morning of Monday June 8, 2020, his health suddenly deteriorated and he had a heart attack”.

Doctors provided “cardiopulmonary resuscitation” over the course of many hours but were unable to save him. The statement did not specify exactly when he died but asked people to remain calm and announced seven days of mourning.


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