U.S. Criticizes Burundi Plans to Alter Presidential Term Limits

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. State Department said a referendum to amend Burundi’s constitution that includes changing presidential terms “through a non-transparent process” will undermine the East African nation’s democratic institutions.

Burundi is scheduled to hold a plebiscite May 17 that could see President Pierre Nkurunziza extend his 13-year rule until 2034. His decision in 2015 to run for a third five-year term, which opponents said contravened a peace agreement that ended the country’s civil war, known as the Arusha Agreement, has sparked a deadly political crisis in the nickel-producing country.

“We are especially concerned that the amendments to the constitution will be interpreted as resetting presidential term limits and run counter to the Arusha Agreement,” the State Department said in an emailed statement. “Such efforts by incumbents to enact constitutional changes to remain in power beyond term limits weaken democratic institutions.”

The U.S. also condemned “numerous” instances of violence, intimidation and harassment against opponents of the referendum and asked Burundi’s government to respect its citizens’ freedoms.

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