Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza rejected international calls to delay elections on Monday after his bid for a controversial third term triggered deadly protests.
At least 19 people have been killed and tens of thousands have fled to neighbouring countries over the unrest, which has raised fears of a wider crisis in a region with a history of ethnic conflict.
The European Union and United States called Monday for the elections set for late June to be delayed.
But Nkurunziza told a BBC interview that postponing the vote would worsen the situation.
“I can tell you that for enduring stability in Burundi you can’t say that you can’t organise elections,” Nkurunziza said. “There would be many violence and many problems.”
“Today we are optimistic that the elections will be very peaceful, transparent and also fair,” Nkurunziza said. “We can assure that we will accept the outcome of the ballot box.”
European donors suspended funding for the electoral process after the ruling CNDD-FDD nominated Nkurunziza to stand for re-election, triggering daily demonstrations.
Opposition groups insist that it is unconstitutional for Nkurunziza, a former rebel from the Hutu majority in power since 2005, to run for more than two terms.
But Nkurunziza argues that his first presidential term did not count as he was elected by parliament, not directly by the people.
Asked to rule on the issue, the constitutional court found in his favour.
Protesters in the capital Bujumbura have defied government orders to end two weeks of demonstrations.
The clashes between security forces and demonstrators have raised fears of a return to violence in the central African state, which is still recovering from a brutal 13-year civil war that ended in 2006.
East African leaders will meet in Tanzania on Wednesday for talks on how to end the crisis.