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Rwanda referendum indicates approval to lift term limits for president

According to first indications, voters in Rwanda have approved a change to the constitution in a referendum. If confirmed, this will allow President Paul Kagame to extend his rule.

The head of Rwanda's electoral commission said late Friday that partial results showed voters had approved a change to the constitution to lift term limits for the presidency.

The Chairman of the National Electoral Commission Mbanda Kalisa said more than 98 percent or 21 out of 30 districts, representing 70 percent of registered voters, voted to lift term limits. Final results are due Monday.

Rwanda's political opposition has criticized the referendum as undemocratic and the United States, a key Rwandan ally, has opposed Kagame's bid to stay in power.

Kagame, 58, is ineligible to run in 2017 because the Rwandan constitution limits a president to two terms.

If the referendum is approved, Kagame would be able to run for an additional seven year term and then two, five year terms after that. That would mean he could possibly stay in power until 2034.

Authoritarian?

Kagame became president in 2000 and is credited with stabilizing the country and promoting economic growth after the mass killings of the Rwandan genocide.

Critics say he is an authoritarian ruler who does not tolerate opposition. He is accused of human rights abuses.

Kagame voted in the capital, Kigali, accompanied by his wife and daughter.

"What is happening is people's choice. Ask people why they want it," he said.

Kagame maintained that it's the wish of the Rwandan people that he extends his term. He said he would announce his candidacy at "any time."

According to a survey conducted by Ipsos, a global research firm, and released this week, ninety-two per cent of Rwandans want Kagame for a third term.

The move to change Rwanda's constitution was prompted by a petition signed by more than 3.7 million people.

av/jm (Reuters, AP)

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