His election by parliamentarians in 2005 was one of the final steps in a peace process intended to end years of fighting between Hutu rebels and the Tutsi-controlled army.

The government of the Republic of Burundi announced on Tuesday the unexpected death of President Nkurunziza at a provincial hospital following a cardiac arrest.

The official statement says the 56-year 0old president has been admitted to hospital on Sunday afternoon after feeling unwell, his condition improved but on Monday he had a cardiac arrest and efforts to revive him were unsuccessful.

President Pierre Nkurunziza, who has been in power since 2005, shocked observers by deciding to step aside, five years after a controversial third-term run plunged his country into political and economic crisis.

At the end of January, the party unveiled  Evariste Ndayishimiye as his successor — a veteran party operator nevertheless seen as softer than Nkurunziza who won the presidential election with 68.72% of the vote, according to the country’s independent national electoral commission.

Born in 1964 in Ngozi province, Pierre Nkurunziza trained as a sports teacher. His father, a former MP, was killed in ethnic violence in 1972.

He joined the Hutu rebellion in 1995 and rose through the ranks to become head of the Forces for Defence of Democracy (FDD) in 2001. He sustained a serious mortar injury during the conflict.

The married father of five is a born-again Christian.

The government has announced seven days of national mourning.