US condemns Kagame move to run for third term as Rwanda president

Both men, once close to President Kagame's inner circle, former presidential guard chief and serving colonel, Tom Byabagamba, and retired brigadier-general Frank Rusagara, were arrested in August 2014 (AFP Photo/Zacharias Abubeker)
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Washington (AFP) - The United States hit out at Rwandan President Paul Kagame's decision to run for a third term, saying it was "deeply disappointed" and concerned by the move.

"With this decision, President Kagame ignores a historic opportunity to reinforce and solidify the democratic institutions the Rwandan people have for more than 20 years labored so hard to establish," State Department spokesman John Kirby said in a statement.

Kagame, once a darling of the West, said Friday he would run again in line with a constitutional amendment which won overwhelming backing in a referendum.

The December 18 referendum saw voters massively approve constitutional amendments allowing Kagame, 58, to run for an exceptional third seven-year term in 2017.

Washington and the European Union have consistently expressed deep concern at any such move.

"The United States believes constitutional transitions of power are essential for strong democracies and that efforts by incumbents to change rules to stay in power weaken democratic institutions," Kirby said in the strongly-worded statement.

"We are particularly concerned by changes that favor one individual over the principle of democratic transitions.

"As Rwanda moves toward local elections this year, presidential elections next year, and parliamentary elections in 2018, we call upon the government of Rwanda to ensure and respect the rights of its citizens to exercise their freedom of expression, conscience, and peaceful assembly -- the hallmarks of true democracies."