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US: Third term for Burundi president could spark violence

March 17, 2015

UNITED NATIONS (AP) — U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power warned Tuesday of possible violence in the impoverished small central African nation of Burundi if the president decides to run for a third term in violation of a 2000 peace agreement.

Power told a group of reporters that during a visit to Burundi last week the U.N. Security Council called on President Pierre Nkurunziza to respect the agreement which limits the president to two terms.

She said there is widespread opposition to a third term for Nkurunziza, including from the Catholic church, and many people close to the president.

If he goes ahead, Power said she is “much more worried about the possibility for a political confrontation — and that that political confrontation could turn violent.”

Burundi has been bedeviled by the same ethnic conflicts that saw Hutus and Tutsis turn on one another during the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda.

Civil war erupted in Burundi — which is overwhelmingly Hutu — in 1993 when Tutsi paratroopers assassinated the country’s first democratically elected president, a Hutu. Despite the 2000 agreement signed in Arusha, Tanzania, the war lasted until 2005, when Nkurunziza took over as president and embarked on a campaign of ethnic reconciliation and economic rehabilitation. But attacks on the opposition, the jailing of a leading human rights activitist, and the president’s attempt to amend the constitution to get a third term have led to a rise in political tensions.

“We still have time,” Power said. “The elections are not supposed to be until June. It’s not clear when he would announce that he is running. He is saying that it’s up to the Constitutional Court to decide.”

But she called the current situation “very worrying,” much more so than during her last visit in April 2014.

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