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Burundi’s Catholic Church speaks out over third mandate for president

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BURUNDI’S influential Catholic Church on Saturday spoke out against suspected plans by President Pierre Nkurunziza to stay in office for a controversial third mandate.

With just four months to go before general elections, tensions have been mounting in the small central African nation over Nkurunziza’s bid to stay put and reports of the repression of the opposition and dissidents.

Burundi’s constitution allows a president to be elected only twice — for a total of 10 years in power — but Nkurunziza argues he has been directly elected by the people only once.  For his first term, beginning in 2005, he was selected by parliament.

But in a newspaper commentary, Bujumbura Archbishop Evariste Ngoyagoye said that after “analysis” of the peace accord that brought Nkurunziza to power and the constitution, as well as some soul-searching, it was clear the president should stand aside.

“The Church does not wish to see Burundi fall back into divisions, clashes or war… and arrives at the conclusion, without any ambiguity, that any person elected to lead Burundi cannot go beyond two five-year mandates,” the archbishop wrote.

The comment, also agreed by other top Catholic officials in the country, is the first time the Church has taken an official position on the upcoming elections.

Burundi, a small landlocked nation in central Africa’s Great Lakes region, emerged in 2006 from a brutal 13-year civil war.

Rights groups have warned of growing fears of the risk of violence ahead of elections, with a string of attacks including a five-day battle in January between the army and rebels.



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