Burundi begins official mourning period for President Pierre Nkurunziza
Nairobi - Burundi began an official
period of mourning for President Pierre Nkurunziza on Wednesday,
a day after the announcement of his death from a heart attack
aged 55 shocked the impoverished East African nation he had
ruled with an iron grip.
Wearing face masks and gloves to prevent the spread of the
new coronavirus, senior government officials, foreign
ambassadors and religious leaders lined up to sign a condolence
book opened in his memory at the presidential palace.
Nkurunziza's wife, Denise Bucumi, appeared to be absent. Air
ambulance service AMREF told Reuters they had flown her to
Nairobi on May 21 for medical treatment, but declined to confirm
widespread reports in Kenyan media that this was for treatment
for Covid-19, the lung disease caused by the new coronavirus.
Calls seeking comment on Bucumi's health to Willy Nyamitwe,
Nkurunziza's close ally and adviser, went unanswered.
There was little public show of mourning on the streets.
"He leaves behind a country whose economy is in a very bad
shape," said a hospital employee who asked not to be identified
for fear of reprisals.
Burundi's economy is mired in poverty and cut off by
international donors after the United Nations documented the
widespread rape, torture and murder of political opponents by
ruling party activists and state security forces.
It remains unclear whether the powerful cabal of army
generals and security chiefs who propped up Nkurunziza during
his 15-year rule remain united over the succession.
Nkurunziza had been due to stand down in August, making way
for retired general Evariste Ndayishimiye, who won an election
last month that the opposition said was marred by violence and
rigging. The constitutional court last week rejected the rigging
Pascal Nyabenda, a civilian who heads the national assembly,
is now meant to take over until Ndayishimiye, his former rival,
starts his seven-year term at the end of August.
Authorities have not commented on the succession or
Nkurunziza's burial date.
Burundi expelled the representative of the World Health
Organization (WHO) last month amid criticism of the government's
handling of the coronavirus pandemic. It has carried out very
few tests and held large rallies during the election period.