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Burundi on the edge as cabinet meets to decide way forward

Burundi’s First Vice President Gaston Sindimwo chaired an extraordinary council of ministers at the state house in Bujumbura on June 11, 2020.

Bujumbura, Burundi | AFP | Burundi held an extraordinary cabinet meeting Thursday to discuss a way forward after the sudden death of long-serving ruler Pierre Nkurunziza left many anxious over the future of the troubled country.

Nkurunziza, who died on Monday aged 55, had been due to step down in August after his surprise decision not to run in an election last month won by the ruling party’s handpicked successor.

But his death has raised uncertainty and fears of a power struggle in a country whose recent history has been marked by violent political upheaval, a refugee exodus and civil war.

The government called a ministerial meeting to discuss “the management of the situation following the unexpected death” of Nkurunziza, who according to the government died of a heart attack after feeling unwell for two days.

The meeting wrapped up in the early afternoon, and the government is expected to give an official statement on its outcome later in the day.

“The two vice presidents and cabinet ministers have already approached the constitutional court to declare the presidency vacant,” a presidential advisor told AFP on condition of anonymity.

Under the constitution, the speaker of the National Assembly, Pascal Nyabenda, should take over in the event of the president dying.

However the country finds itself in an unusual situation, as a newly-elected president is waiting to be sworn in in August.

“The government seemed to be leaning towards a swift swearing-in of the president-elect, but things are changing because after intense discussions they may finally opt for the strict respect of the constitution with an interim led by the speaker,” the presidential advisor said. This was confirmed by another high-ranking party member.

The path forward will be ultimately be decided by a “crisis committee” answering to the president’s office, a ministerial source told AFP on condition of anonymity.

This group comprises powerful generals like Nkurunziza, who emerged from the ethnic Hutu rebellion during Burundi’s long civil war and ruled for 15 often tumultuous years.

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