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Burundians forced to sign up to vote in referendum, opposition says

By Reuters | Published Sun, February 18th 2018 at 00:00, Updated February 17th 2018 at 22:07 GMT +3
Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza

Burundians are being forced to sign up to vote in a May referendum on extending presidential term limits, Burundian opposition figures and residents say, although the government denies the allegations.

The constitutional amendment would extend the presidential term to seven years from five, allowing President Pierre Nkurunziza to run again in 2020. It would limit the president to two consecutive seven-year terms, but won’t take into account previous terms, potentially extending his rule to 2034.

Deputy chairman of the opposition FRODEBU party, Léonce Ngendakumana, told Reuters that citizens were being intimidated into signing up to vote in a week-long registration exercise which ended yesterday.

“Checkpoints have been set up, likely by youths of the ruling party, to check receipts (of registration). Students who have not been registered are sent back to do so,” Ngendakumana said.

“This referendum is organised in total opacity and extreme intimidation. A referendum held in such conditions will result in a biased outcome.”

Nkurunziza came to power in 2005 after a peace deal ended a decade of civil war between the Tutsi-dominated army and Hutu rebels, in which 300,000 people were killed.

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He ran for a third term in 2015, which opponents said violated the terms of the peace deal, sparking clashes resulting in hundreds of deaths. Nearly 430,000 people have fled the tiny East African nation of 10.5 million.

Registration drive

A traveller who requested anonymity confirmed to Reuters that he had been stopped at a roadblock near the Rwandan border and asked to confirm he had registered. Reuters spoke to people who also reported roadblocks in central Karusi province. Five people told Reuters about roadblocks in three different locations.

The registration drive also targeted 16-year-olds, since they will qualify to vote in the 2020 elections. A memo displayed at the Bururi Secondary School in the south of the country said: “Whatever service you are requesting will be conditional on a receipt confirming that you registered (to vote)”.

Thérence Ntahiraja, the Interior minister’s assistant, told Reuters compulsory registration is illegal.