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Rwanda's Kagame Leaves Next Term Up in Air

FILE - Rwandan President Paul Kagame.
FILE - Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

Rwandan leader's term ends in 2017, new changes allow Kagame to run for another seven-year term followed by two five-year terms, potentially keeping him in power until 2034.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame thanked the nation Monday for voting to change term limits in the constitution, but did not hint on whether he plans to seek re-election.

In his annual State of the Nation address, Kagame said, "No individual is forever, but there is no term limit on values, institutions or progress... When the time comes to transfer responsibility from one public servant to another, Rwandans already have confidence that it will be done."

The Rwandan leader's term ends in 2017. The new changes allow Kagame, 58, to run for another seven-year term followed by two five-year terms, potentially keeping him in office until 2034.

Ninety-eight percent of Rwanda voters approved the constitutional amendments in Friday's referendum. Kagame thanked those who took part in the vote whether they voted "yes" or "no."

The United States and European Union had criticized the amendments as undermining democracy in the central African country.

On Sunday, U.S. National Security Council spokesman Ned Price called for Kagame to respect the term limits that were in place when he entered office. By doing so, he said, Kagame "would establish a credible foundation for democracy in Rwanda ... and set a laudable example not only for Rwanda but for the region and the world."

Efforts to change presidential term limits have sparked controversy in several African countries this year. In Rwanda's neighbor Burundi, President Pierre Nkurunziza is under pressure to negotiate with opponents who say the third term he was elected to in July is unconstitutional.

More than 200,000 Burundians have fled the country to escape escalating violence.

Kagame has been in office since 2000, but has essentially ruled Rwanda since 1994, when his ethnic Tutsi army, the Rwandan Patriotic Front, ended a genocide by extremists from the Hutu majority.

About 800,000 people were massacred in Rwanda then, the bulk of them Tutsis.