, BUJUMBURA, Burundi, May 5 – Protestors in Burundi dismissed a constitutional court ruling that cleared President Pierre Nkurunziza to run for a controversial third term Tuesday, as the government offered to release activists if deadly demonstrations stopped.
The decision came hours after the court’s vice-president refused to sign the ruling – and fled the country instead.
But the six remaining judges ruled the president’s bid to stand for another term “by direct universal suffrage for five years, is not contrary to the constitution of Burundi”.
Protesters defied calls to end demonstrations, after more than a week of running battles in which at least 13 people have been killed, including police.
Judge Sylvere Nimpagaritse told AFP that the court had come under “enormous pressure and even death threats” from senior figures, whom he refused to name, to rubberstamp the president’s disputed candidature.
Top ruling party official Christian Nkurunziza said the court decision must “close the debate”, while first Vice President Prosper Bazombanza pleaded for protests to end. READ: Kerry warns Burundi president’s third term bid is unconstitutional.
“To create a climate of appeasement, the government is willing to release the young people who were arrested,” Bazombanza said.
He also offered to lift arrest warrants issued for key civil society leaders and reopen independent radio stations, provided that “protests and the insurrection stop”.
But opposition leader Gabriel Rufyiri rejected the ruling by a “manipulated” court and the apparent olive branch offered by the government.
“We are ready to die for our rights,” Rufyiri said. “We do not negotiate the rights guaranteed in the constitution, including the right to demonstrate.”