Burundi's president is poised to declare his controversial bid for re-election, the country's ruling party said Thursday, with the opposition branding the move as a coup and vowing more protests.
Opposition parties, church leaders and top diplomats have been demanding President Pierre Nkurunziza respect a constitutional limit of two terms in office, fearing the small central African nation could be plunged back into violence.
But Nkurunziza's CNDD-FDD party -- which has also been accused of suppressing dissidents and activists -- said it would designate its candidate at a congress on Saturday. A senior party source confirmed to AFP that the choice to anoint the president for another term "has already been made".
Presidential elections in Burundi are scheduled to be held on June 26.
"Whatever happens, it will be President Nkurunziza, regardless of the consequences," the official said. The ruling party's president, Pascal Nyabenda, meanwhile insisted that the result was not a foregone conclusion and that "it is up to party members to decide".
Opposition parties and civil society groups are campaigning for the president not to run again.
The influential Catholic Church has also spoken out against his expected attempt to stay put, while the UN Security Council has also warned that the upcoming elections in Burundi -- only emerged from a brutal 13-year civil war in 2006 -- could turn violent.
Earlier this month UN rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein warned that the country was at a "crossroads" between a fair vote that would boost the country and a route back to its "horrendously violent past".
- Thousands fleeing threats -
An opposition coalition leader, Leonce Ngendakumana, said it was clear that it was now certain that Nkurunziza, a former rebel leader, football fanatic and evangelical Christian, was set to defy opponents and attempt to stay in power.
"This is a constitutional coup and he and his party will be responsible for the consequences. We will not allow him to trample over the constitution," he said.
The opposition leader also promised fresh demonstrations, despite a government warning made earlier this week to call out the army if protests escalate.
"We will appeal to CNDD-FDD party members to come to their senses and save the country. Otherwise the Burundian people will have to rise up as one to reject this constitutional coup," said Vital Nshimirimana, head of a prominent NGO forum and the main leader of the campaign to block a third term.
Thousands of Burundians have fled the country in recent weeks to neighbouring Rwanda and Democratic Republic of Congo, according to the UN's refugee agency, which has also warned the that the numbers of refugees could swell "with more political tension rising and more acts of violence being reported."
Many are fleeing threats by the pro-government militia Imbonerakure, the youth wing of the ruling CNDD-FDD party.
Police clashed with protestors in the capital Bujumbura last week, and 65 people were arrested and charged with rebellion.
Burundi's constitution only allows a president to be elected twice -- for a total of 10 years in power -- but Nkurunziza argues he has only been directly elected by the people once.
For his first term, beginning in 2005, he was selected by parliament. The opposition boycotted the last elections in 2010, alleging fraud.