US opposes third term for Rwanda's Kagame: diplomat

An amendment to the constitution would allow Rwandan President Paul Kagame, 58, to run for an exceptional third seven-year term in 2017 (AFP Photo/Zacharias Abubeker)
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  • Paul Kagame
    Paul Kagame
    Rwandan politician, 4th and current President of Rwanda

Washington (AFP) - The United States would oppose any moves to allow Rwanda's President Paul Kagame to stand for a third term in office, a State Department diplomat told AFP on Friday.

"We are committed to support a peaceful, democratic transition in 2017 to a new leader elected by the Rwandan people," he said.

Rwanda's 2003 constitution limits the number of presidential terms to two and therefore bars Kagame -- elected first in 2003 and again in 2010 -- from standing for a third term.

But last week, Rwandan officials said parliament will over the next two months debate a change in the constitution in response to what Kagame's aides have described a "popular demand."

Washington has long supported 57-year-old Kagame, the Tutsi former rebel leader who led the offensive that ended a 1994 genocide by Huti extremists and led the country's revival.

But the US official made it clear that the United States would not back any attempt to modify the constitution to keep its ally in office beyond the next scheduled election.

"The United States believes that democracy is best advanced through the development of strong institutions, not strongmen," he said.

"Changing constitutions to eliminate term limits in order to favor incumbents is inconsistent with democratic principles and reduces confidence in democratic institutions."

Rwandan officials deny that Kagame himself is behind moves to review the constitution, insisting they are responding to popular demand from his loyal supporters.

But recent similar moves in other African countries have provoked unrest.

Last year, Burkina Faso's former president Blaise Compaore was chased out after trying to extend his stay in power.

And Rwanda's southern neighbor Burundi has been gripped by weeks of unrest and even a coup attempt as President Pierre Nkurunziza prepares to run for re-election.

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