Burundi president's commission says people want term limits removed

August 25, 2016 4:24 AM EDT

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza attends the ruling Conseil National pour la Defense de la Democratie - Forces pour Defense de la Democratie (CNDD-FDD) party extraordinary congress in Gitega Province, Burundi, August 20, 2016. REUTERS/Evrard Ngendaku

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By Clement Manirabarusha

BUJUMBURA (Reuters) - Burundi could scrap presidential term limits from its constitution after a commission set up to hear public views on governance said most citizens wanted no curbs on the number of times the head of state may seek re-election.

The central African nation has been gripped by violence for more than a year, triggered by President Pierre Nkurunziza's decision to seek a third term.

Opponents said the decision, taken in April 2015, violated the constitution, which currently limits presidential tenure to two five-year terms.

Justin Nzoyisaba, chairman of CNDI, a commission set up by Nkurunziza last year to canvas public opinion on Burundi's political system, said late on Wednesday that most Burundians wanted term limits abolished.

The majority of the people the commission met "want the president ...to exercise more than two terms," he told a news conference. "People said they have to erase the term limits; it means that the president can run for any time he wants."

The commission is expected to send its report to Nkurunziza, who will then send to it parliament for debate and possibly begin a process to amend the constitution.

Critics also said Nkurunziza's third term bid violated the terms of a 2005 peace deal that ended a previous rebellion.

Burundi would be the latest in a growing list of African countries where term limits have been abolished or maneuvers are under way as most incumbents appear unwilling to cede power after their terms approach their end.

Often those moves have triggered tensions and violence.

In neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), President Joseph Kabila is facing protests, with opponents accusing him of seeking to delay elections and stay in office after his term expires in December.

Burundi's other neighbor, Rwanda, which has the same ethnic mix of Hutus and Tutsis and similar history of bloody politics, also changed its constitution last year to allow Paul Kagame, president since 2000, to rule possibly until 2034.

Nkurunziza said a constitutional court decision allowed him to seek another term and he went on to win re-election in July last year. At least 450 people have since died in widespread violence and tit-for-tat killings spurred by his third term bid.

The violence has also uprooted about a quarter of a million Burundians, who have fled mostly to neighboring Tanzania and Uganda.

(Additional reporting by Patrick Nduwimana in Kigali; writing by Elias Biryabarema; editing by Mark Heinrich)

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