Nkurunziza at an independence day celebration in 2015. Photo: Marco Longari/AFP via Getty Images

Burundi's government says President Pierre Nkurunziza, 55, has died of a heart attack — though his death follows reports that he and his wife may have contracted COVID-19.

Why it matters: Burundi has reported few cases of coronavirus and done little to mitigate the spread. It expelled World Health Organization officials last month, accusing them of "interference," and went ahead with elections on May 20 that were widely viewed as rigged but saw Nkurunziza's chosen successor declared the winner.

Where things stand: The government says Nkurunziza was hospitalized on Saturday after feeling unwell, and that he went into cardiac arrest on Monday.

  • But observers noted that Nkurunziza's wife had reportedly been taken to Kenya days earlier for medical treatment, likely for coronavirus.

Between the lines: Nkurunziza would be the first sitting world leader to die of coronavirus, if that was determined to be the cause.

The big picture: Nkurunziza was due to step down as president in August and be named “supreme guide to patriotism," per the Economist.

  • Burundi, a country of 11 million which borders Rwanda, Tanzania and the Democratic Republic of Congo, has seen significant democratic backsliding on Nkurunziza's watch, according to Freedom House.
  • He defied constitutional term limits in seeking a third term in 2015, but surprised some by stepping aside this time around.
  • Like in Tanzania, the government has refused to implement many restrictions, and a government spokesman said the country would be protected by God. The ruling party held large rallies ahead of the elections.

What to watch: "The big question here is whether [Nkurunziza] died from Covid-19 (and whether authorities will admit it if he did)," says Simon Allison, Africa editor for the Mail and Guardian.

Go deeper

Updated 1 min ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 p.m. ET: 18,614,542 — Total deaths: 702,330 — Total recoveries — 11,181,018Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3:30 p.m. ET: 4,793,950 — Total deaths: 157,416 — Total recoveries: 1,528,979 — Total tests: 58,239,438Map.
  3. 2020: Joe Biden will no longer travel to Milwaukee for Democratic convention.
  4. Public health: Florida surpasses 500,000 confirmed casesModerna skirts disclosures of vaccine costs.
  5. Sports: The return of high school sports hangs in the balance — UConn becomes first FBS team to cancel football season.
  6. Education: Chicago Public Schools to begin school year fully remote.
Updated 11 mins ago - World

Beirut explosion: Death toll rises to 135, officials under house arrest

Photo: Anwar Amro/AFP via Getty Images

The death toll from Tuesday's explosion in Beirut, Lebanon has now surpassed 130, including at least one U.S. citizen, amid a search for answers as to why a huge store of ammonium nitrate was left unsecured near the city's port for nearly seven years.

What we know: The government says around 5,000 people are injured. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said current indications are that the massive explosion was accidental, despite President Trump's puzzling claim on Tuesday evening that it appeared to be a bomb attack.

Exclusive: Trump campaign seeks early September presidential debate

Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Image

The Trump campaign is asking the Commission on Presidential Debates to move up the last presidential debate to the first week in September to get ahead of an expected surge in early voting.

Driving the news: President Trump's personal attorney, former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, made the request in a letter dated Wednesday and obtained by Axios.