President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, 55, Dies of Heart Attack

President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, 55, Dies of Heart Attack

President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, 55, Dies of Heart Attack

President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, 55, Dies of Heart Attack

NAIROBI, Kenya — President Pierre Nkurunziza of Burundi died of heart failure on Monday just weeks after a crucial election to choose a successor to replace him after 15 years of autocratic rule over the Central African nation. He was 55.

Mr. Nkurunziza’s death was announced by the government on Tuesday on Twitter. He died at a hospital in eastern Burundi after he fell ill and was hospitalized over the weekend after attending a volleyball game.

A former rebel leader, Mr. Nkurunziza ruled the country with impunity for years, arresting journalists, stifling media outlets and cracking down on opposition parties.

His reign drew international condemnation and sparked widespread protests in the tiny country, one of the world’s poorest. The International Criminal Court opened an investigation into whether his government committed crimes against humanity, including murder, torture, rape and disappearances. In 2017, Mr. Nkurunziza withdrew Burundi’s membership in the Court.

A government spokesman, Prosper Ntahorwamiye, called for calm and announced seven days of mourning during which flags would be flown at half-mast.

“Burundi has just lost an honorable son of the country, a president of the Republic, a Supreme Guide of Patriotism,” Mr. Ntahorwamiye, said in a statement, referring to the official title Mr. Nkurunziza would have adopted once he stepped down. His successor was set to be sworn in in August for a seven-year term.

In late May, the secretary general of the ruling party, Evariste Ndayishimiye, won the presidential election, even though opposition parties and human rights organizations said the vote was marred by irregularities. Burundi’s constitutional court rejected those claims and last week upheld the election of Mr. Ndayishimiye.

On Tuesday, activists said Mr. Nkurunziza would be remembered for overseeing an administration that crushed dissent and committed human rights abuses.

“His death highlights the urgency for the many victims to know the truth about the crimes committed during his presidency and who was responsible,” said Lewis Mudge, the Central Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

“As long as these abuses go unpunished,” he said, “this dark legacy will hang over Burundi for many years to come.”




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