Burundi court says to swear in president-elect immediately

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FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2020, file photo, Burundi Army Gen. Evariste Ndayishimiye, left, is accompanied by president Pierre Nkurunziza, right, after Ndayishimiye was chosen as the party's presidential candidate at a national conference for the ruling CNDD-FDD party in the rural province of Gitega, Burundi. Burundi's government said Tuesday, June 9, 2020 that President Pierre Nkurunziza has died of a heart attack. (AP Photo/Berthier Mugiraneza, File)

NAIROBI – Burundi’s constitutional court on Friday said the president-elect should be sworn in as soon as possible, ending uncertainty created by the death of President Pierre Nkurunziza this week.

Evariste Ndayishimiye won the May presidential election and faced an August swearing-in, but Nkurunziza’s death on Monday from what the government called a heart attack left open the possibility that his ally and national assembly speaker Pascal Nyabenda might be named interim president per the constitution.

The council of ministers on Thursday decided to ask the constitutional court for guidance.

The court said there is no need to name an interim president as the election to choose a president has already been held, Burundi's government said in a statement Friday.

It was not immediately clear when or where the swearing-in would take place.

Nkurunziza led the East African nation for 15 years and his government was accused by rights groups and the United Nations of deadly repression around his quest for a disputed third term in 2015. Angered by the scrutiny, Burundi became the first country to leave the International Criminal Court.

The government went ahead with the May election in spite of the coronavirus pandemic, allowing large rallies, saying the country had divine protection and kicking out the World Health Organization's top official there. Many in Burundi have wondered whether Nkurunziza, last seen in public on Saturday watching a volleyball match, died of COVID-19 instead.

Ndayishimiye was the ruling party candidate in the election, defeating opposition leader Agathon Rwasa, who challenged the vote in court while alleging irregularities but lost.

Aime Magera, the international representative of Rwasa's CNL party, told The Associated Press that Friday's ruling was not surprising in a country that does not respect the rule of law.

“Legally speaking, all Burundians know it’s the speaker, Pascal Nyabenda, who is supposed to take over as interim president. What the ruling party is doing is simply a coup,” Magera said. “The law should not be applied selectively."

Rwasa wore a face mask as he signed the condolence book for Nkurunziza this week. Ndayishimiye has not been seen there.


Ssuuna reported from Kigali, Rwanda.