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Burundi votes for referendum that could extend president's term

The referendum asks voters to say 'yes' or 'no' to constitutional amendments that would allow Nkurunziza to seek two more seven-year terms beginning in 2020 Photograph: (Reuters)

Reuters Delhi, India May 17, 2018, 08.50 PM (IST)

Burundians stood in long lines on Thursday to vote in a referendum that could let President Pierre Nkurunziza stay in power until 2034, deepening fears of political repression and ethnic conflict in the heart of Africa's Great Lakes.

The referendum asks voters to say "yes" or "no" to constitutional amendments that would allow Nkurunziza to seek two more seven-year terms beginning in 2020.

Nearly half a million people have fled since Nkurunziza, a 54-year-old former sports teacher and ethnic Hutu guerrilla leader, initially prolonged his decade in charge by running for a disputed third term in 2015. He first came to power in 2005 at the end of a long civil war in which 300,000 died.

The landlocked East African country has broadly the same ethnic make-up as neighbouring Rwanda, where 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus were slaughtered by Hutu extremists in a 1994 genocide.

Some 430,000 refugees - many opponents of the president-have fled to Tanzania and Rwanda since the 2015 elections. The country still suffers bouts of political violence -- at least 26 people were killed in an attack in a rural province this month.

Analyst fear that the country could experience more violence as the referendum outcome is announced which would also uproot more citizens to neighbouring countries.

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