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Burundi’s president launches campaign to extend rule until 2034

Burundian President Pierre Nkurunziza has launched a campaign to promote a referendum to change the constitution that could extend his rule over the landlocked East African country until 2034.

Addressing a crowd of thousands of farmers in the central district of Gitega on Tuesday, Nkurunziza threatened those who sought to undermine the referendum slated for early 2018.

“We take this opportunity to warn those who want to sabotage this project, whether by speech or actions,” Nkurunziza said. “It will be a red line.”

“It’s the day you’ve been waiting for,” Nkurunziza said.

Nkurunziza’s administration adopted a plan in October to revise the constitution that, if passed by the referendum, would allow him to serve another two seven-year terms from 2020.

Opposition activists have already denounced the project they say will be the “funeral” of the country’s 2000 peace agreement. The deal ended a 13-year civil war in which more than 300,000 people were killed.

The start of the campaign comes a day after the government launched a fundraising drive for elections in 2020, presented as “voluntary.” The move, however, has been condemned by rights groups as “organized robbery.”

Burundi has faced deadly political turmoil since April 2015, when President Nkurunziza announced plans to seek a disputed third term that he ultimately won.

The violence claimed between 500 and 2,000 lives, according to differing tolls from the UN and civil society groups, while more than 400,000 Burundians have fled the country.

In September, a UN commission of inquiry report said crimes against humanity, including killings and sexual violence, were still being committed in Burundi and it asked the International Criminal Court (ICC) to open an investigation as soon as possible.

According to the report, alleged perpetrators include top officials in Burundi’s National Intelligence Services and police force, military officials and members of the youth league of the ruling party, known as Imbonerakure.

The ICC in November decided to launch an investigation into atrocities committed in Burundi, despite the country’s pullout from the international body last month.

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