Evariste Ndayishimiye has been sworn in as Burundi’s new president, taking oath at a colourful ceremony in the capital, Gitega, after the sudden death of his predecessor.
In his oath on Thursday, Ndayishimiye pledged to “devote all my force to defending the superior interests of the nation and ensure the national unity and cohesion of the Burundian people, peace and social justice”.
A 21-gun salute rang out after he signed the pledge before the seven members of the constitutional court.
“Understand that you are a son of God and as such must bring peace among Burundians, you know how much we need it,” said the Catholic archbishop of Gitega, Simon Ntamwana.
“Bring back to our country the refugees in the camps, bring back the intellectuals in exile so that they can take part in the development of our country, renew ties with the international community so they can help us develop,” he said.
Pierre Nkurunziza, who ruled the East Africa nation for 15 often tumultuous years, died of a heart attack last week.
This is the first time a Burundian president has been sworn in before the people and not parliament.
With little sign of face masks or social distancing at the ceremony, it appeared there was no immediate change in the government’s belief that divine protection would largely suffice to prevent the coronavirus, despite suspicion that Nkurunziza died of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus.
Some regional leaders and human rights groups expressed hope that the new president, an ally of Nkurunziza, might break with certain ways of his predecessor.
President @CyrilRamaphosa, President of the Republic of South Africa and Chairperson of the African Union, congratulates the President of Burundi, Major General Evariste Ndayishimiye on his election and inauguration as President of Burundi today. https://t.co/IBBTLKLPhs
— Presidency | South Africa 🇿🇦 (@PresidencyZA) June 18, 2020
In a statement, Amnesty International called on Ndayishimiye to rein in the Imbonerakure youth wing of the ruling party, accused of killings and other abuses, and urged the immediate freeing of imprisoned journalists and others jailed for exercising their human rights.
The rights group also urged Burundi’s new leader to investigate the deadly violence that followed Nkurunziza’s decision in 2015 to pursue a third term, which many called unconstitutional.
His 2015 run for a third term in office sparked protests and a failed coup, with violence leaving at least 1,200 people dead while some 400,000 fled the country.
Burundi’s government has denied allegations it targets its people, calling them malicious propaganda by dissidents. Angered by scrutiny, it became the first country to withdraw from the International Criminal Court.