Burundi's second vice president flees amid political turmoil

Gervais Rufyikiri is the most senior government official to publicly oppose the president's bid for a third term

Burundi's second vice president said he fled the country fearing for his life after opposing the president's controversial bid for a third term that has sparked violent protests in the capital in recent weeks.

Gervais Rufyikiri, who went to Belgium last week and is one Burundi's two vice presidents, said in an interview with France 24 television on Thursday that he has not officially resigned.

"I took the decision to leave the country because I was personally threatened," said Rufyikiri. "All who are against the third term are threatened. I personally was fearing for my security since I saw some signals."

Rufyikiri is the most senior government official to publicly oppose President Pierre Nkurunziza's efforts to extend his stay in power. Dozens of opposition and civil society activists, government officials and journalists have gone into exile after opposing the president's candidacy for another term in office.

In a Twitter posting, the presidential adviser for information and media Willy Nyamitwe confirmed Rufyikiri had fled.

"Goodbye and good riddance Rufyikiri is the refrain of the song of my heart," Nyamitwe tweeted.

Meanwhile, a presidential spokesman said there had been no threat to Rufyikiri.

At least 77 people have died in street protests against Nkurunziza's bid for a third term in the July 15 presidential elections, according to rights activists.

The street protests that started after April 26 announcement of Nkurunziza's candidacy triggered an attempted coup in mid-May that was quickly put down.

Critics say Nkurunziza's push for another term violates the two-term limit for presidents set by the constitution. Nkurunziza maintains that he deserves a third term in office because he was elected by parliament and not by popular vote for his first term.

Agence France-Presse reported Thursday that around 200 students broke into the U.S. embassy in the capital Bujumbura seeking refuge after police threatened to break up their camp outside the compound.

Armed U.S. marines reportedly watched from the embassy roof as students climbed under the gate and over the wall before sitting inside the compound with their hands raised.

The United Nations, African states and Western countries have called for dialogue to ease the crisis in a region with a history of ethnic conflict. However, talks between rival camps have so far shown little sign of bridging differences.

Wire services

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