, BUJUMBURA, Burundi, Jul 6 – Burundi’s president skipped regional talks Monday aimed at brokering a deal to end weeks of unrest in the country, choosing instead to campaign for his controversial third term.
Leaders of the five-nation East African Community (EAC) bloc had been due to meet Monday in the Tanzanian city Dar es Salaam.
“President Pierre Nkurunziza will not attend the summit,” said spokesman Gervais Abahiro, adding that Foreign Minister Alain Aime-Nyamitwe would take his place.
Nkurunziza will instead lead his presidential campaign in Burundi’s central Mwaro and Gitega regions.
The crisis in Burundi surrounds Nkurunziza’s bid to stand for a third consecutive five-year term in office, a move branded by opponents as unconstitutional and a violation of a peace deal that brought an end to years of civil war in 2006.
More than 70 people have been killed in more than two months of protests and a failed coup attempt, with almost 144,000 refugees fleeing into neighbouring nations.
Parliamentary and local elections held last Monday were boycotted by the opposition.
The UN electoral observer mission said the polls took place “in a tense political crisis, and a climate of widespread fear and intimidation”. Results are yet to be released.
There are fears the current crisis could plunge the impoverished, landlocked country back into civil war.
During the first summit on May 13, a general staged a failed bid to unseat Nkurunziza while the president himself attended the talks. Nkurunziza did not attend a second summit on May 31.
The EAC bloc includes Burundi, as well as Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda. But Rwandan President Paul Kagame, who has called on Nkurunziza to step down from power, is also not attending the summit, officials in Kigali said.