Burundi's constitutional court will examine the legality of President Pierre Nkurunziza's bid for a third term, the Senate said Wednesday, after days of violent protests over his plans to contest June elections.
Venant Barubike, private secretary to the Senate president, told AFP that a motion had been submitted to the court seeking an interpretation of key articles related to a possible presidential third term.
But opposition leaders were dismissive of what they said was a court loyal to the president and said they would continue protests.
At least five people have died in protests that erupted at the weekend after the ruling CNDD-FDD party designated Nkurunziza its candidate for the presidential election to be held in the central African nation on June 26.
Opposition figures and rights groups say Nkurunziza's bid for a third consecutive term goes against the constitution as well as the peace deal that ended a civil war in 2006.
Hundreds of thousands of people were killed in the 13-year conflict, which divided the country along ethnic lines, between the Hutu majority and minority Tutsis.
African Union Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma has welcomed the move, saying she was "pleased to note that the Burundi Senate has taken the third-term question to the constitutional court," adding that "it must decide responsibly".
The president, a former rebel leader and born-again Christian from the Hutu majority, has been in power since 2005.
His supporters say he is eligible to run again, given that he was elected to his first term by parliament -- not directly by the people.
The constitution states that the president is elected by universal direct suffrage, "for a mandate of five years renewable one time".
But opposition lawmaker Jean Minani dismissed the move, saying the judges were political appointees of the president.
"It is as if the Senate had asked Nkurunziza himself to interpret the constitution," Minani told AFP. "The opposition... will continue to say no to the third term."
Human rights activist Pierre-Claver Mbonimpa -- who was arrested overnight Monday before being released after calling for protests -- also said any ruling would not be impartial.
"The constitutional court is composed of the darlings of Pierre Nkurunziza, and they do not refuse him anything," said Mbonimpa.
"Civil society does not accept the constitutional court as arbitrator, we continue to support the protests."