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Burundi’s cabinet backed a constitutional change that would allow its president to stay in office until 2034, widening a political rift that has driven the country progressively deeper into crisis.
Under existing laws, Burundian presidents are limited to two five-year terms.
Unrest that has gripped Burundi since April 2015, when Pierre Nkurunziza announced he would stand for a third, has killed hundreds, left the economy moribund and forced about 400,000 people to seek safety in neighbouring countries.
UN rights investigators and independent activists have accused government forces of widespread violations including forced disappearances, and of orchestrating a campaign of terror.
A senior government official said on Friday that the cabinet adopted the draft legislation seeking to amend the constitution on Tuesday.
Nkurunziza, who has been in office since 2005, won re-election in July 2015 in a ballot that critics said violated the constitution and the terms of an agreement that ended a previous rebellion.
Nkurunziza’s backers said the country’s constitutional court had cleared him to run again, but some opponents took up arms against his rule and insecurity has plagued the country since.
Other African leaders have in the recent past also tinkered with or defied their constitutions to extend their rule, including Uganda’s President Yoweri Museveni, Rwanda’s Paul Kagame and Democratic Republic of Congo’s Joseph Kabila.
Proposed amendments under the Burundian bill seek to abolish the two-term limit and lengthen presidential terms to seven years. Incumbents would be able to serve two consecutive terms of seven years each and also be eligible to seek re-election after an interregnum.
If the amendment was passed by parliament, “the current head of state can rule until 2034,” the source said.
A second official said the government would hold a referendum on the draft legislation next year, but did not say which month.
Opposition officials have criticised the legislation which they say was initiated in secrecy and designed to entrench Nkurunziza in power.
“No one knew what was being done. It was done in total secrecy…we will always oppose it,” deputy president of the opposition FRODEBU party, Leonce Ngendakumana, said.
“The constitution should not be revised in a tense social climate.”
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Abiy Ahmed wins the 2019 Nobel Peace Award
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for immersly efforts to end two decades of hostility with longtime enemy Eritrea.
Though Africa’s youngest leader still faces big challenges, he has in under two years in power begun political and economic reforms that promise a better life for many in impoverished Ethiopia and restored ties with Eritrea that had been frozen since a 1998-2000 border war.
“We are proud as a nation,” the prime minister’s office said in a statement, hailing a “collective win for all Ethiopians, and a call to strengthen our resolve in making Ethiopia – the new horizon of hope – a prosperous nation for all.”
It said the prize was meant to recognize “all the stakeholders working for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia and in the East and Northeast African regions.”
The Nobel Committee’s decision appeared designed to encourage the peace process, echoing the 1994 peace prize shared by Israeli and Palestinian leaders and the 1993 award for moves towards reconciliation in South Africa, said Dan Smith, head of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
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