Burundians vote Today in a referendum that would let President Pierre Nkurunziza stay in power until 2034, raising fears of deeper political repression and ethnic conflict in the Great Lakes nation only a generation after the Rwandan genocide.
Nearly half a million have fled since Nkurunziza won a third term in a violent election in 2015. The East African country has the same ethnic makeup as its neighbour Rwanda, where the constitution has also been changed to give the president the opportunity to remain in office.
Opposition politicians and rights groups have cited numerous examples of repression, from arrests of dissidents, to the breaking up of “no” rallies, to death threats issued by the Imbonerakure, the youth wing of Nkurunziza’s ruling CNDD–FDD.
In a sign of the poisonous political atmosphere, the party’s secretary general told a rally in the capital, Bujumbura, this week that those who voted against the proposed changes to the constitution were “enemies of the nation”.
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Nkurunziza, a former sports teacher and guerrilla leader from the Hutu ethnic majority, has ruled the landlocked nation, one of the world’s poorest, since the end in 2005 of a civil war in which 300,000 people were killed.
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