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Rwandan MPs approve extending presidential term limits

Rwandan lawmakers voted Thursday to pass a constitutional attendement enabling President Paul Kagame to run for a third consecutive term in 2017.

"I want to thank everyone who participated in this process, we have finished our work.. we took into account the wishes of the people," said Donatille Mukabalisa, Speaker of the lower house of parliament.

Parliament met after a petition calling for the amendment was signed by more than 3.5 million people. The amendment is still to be put to a referendum, although there is expected to be little resistance.

Article 101 says: "Under no circumstances shall a person hold the Office of the President of the Republic for more than two terms."

The parliament move came in for harsh criticism from Frank Habineza, the leader of the Democratic Green Party, the main opposition party , who said Kagame is trying to entrench a culture of dictatorship in the country.

"Like other African leaders, President Kagame does not want to leave power and the country is heading to square one," said Habineza.

Earlier this month, the Supreme Court dismissed an application by the Democratic Green Party, which wanted to prevent parliament from allowing a change to article 101.

Chief Justice Sam Rugege said in his ruling: "The court finds that article 193 of the Rwandan constitution allows article 101 to be changed if it's done by citizens through a referendum."

Mixed support

Speaking on the DW's political talk show "Conflict Zone," Rwanda Foreign Minister Louise Mushikiwabo expressed hope that Kagame will run for another term. Host Tim Sebastian asked the minister about US President Obama's speech to the African Union where he said that "Africa's democratic progress is also at risk from leaders who refuse to step aside when their terms end."

"President Obama or anybody else is free to say what they want. The decision is by the Rwandan people. They are the ones who know who should govern them and speak," Mushikiwabo said.

The United States, a major donor to Rwanda, has said it was concerned by moves to change the constitution. Washington said this month it "opposed those in positions of power changing constitutions solely for their political self-interest."

"There is a question as to whether donors will continue to support Rwanda the way they have," said Pritish Behuria, a fellow at the London School of Economics and Political Science.

The US has provided the country with over $1 billion (900 million euros) over the past ten years. Behuria thinks that donors and critics of Kagame have to view realities on the ground in Rwanda and not get taken away with the idea that democracy is the model form of government.

"Rather than think about democracy as the solution to everything, there should be a more pragmatic approach to what can be done," he said.

Behuria believes that Kagame has done this by focusing on economic development, an area in which the president has been very successful and therefore very popular.