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Burundi Constitution Comes Into Force


Burundi's new constitution came into force as most Tutsi parties that had earlier rejected the draft document gave their tentative approval.

The chairman of Burundi's largest Tutsi political party Uprona, Jean-Baptiste Manwangari, told VOA his and most other Tutsi parties softened their opposition against Burundi's draft constitution because, in his words, they wanted to prevent a political vacuum.

He said the Tutsi parties also saw their tentative approval as a way to stimulate discussion and debate possibly leading to some changes in the document before it is put to a national referendum November 26.

"We need peace, stability, and reconciliation. So we insist to have continuation of dialogue," he said.

Burundi's draft constitution came into force Monday. In the November 26 referendum, Burundians will be asked whether or not they want the document to be their permanent constitution.

The referendum will be followed by elections early next year.

These procedures follow the requirements of a peace deal that was signed in Tanzania four years ago. The deal created a three-year transitional government whose term was to end Monday, but will instead be extended to next year.

Dogging the process has been opposition from Uprona and nine other Tutsi political parties that had earlier refused to sign a power-sharing agreement included within Burundi's constitution.

The power-sharing agreement calls for a 50-50 split in the senate and a 60-40 split between Hutus and Tutsis in the National Assembly.

The Tutsi parties argue that the constitution, finalized recently by mostly Hutu political parties and politicians, does not guarantee that Tutsis would continue to adequately exercise political power in the country.

They also said Tutsi representatives must come from Tutsi political parties, and not from Hutu-dominated parties.

Tutsis make up around 15 percent of Burundi's population, yet they dominate the army and political sphere. This imbalance was a major factor in the start of the civil war 11 years ago, which has claimed about 300,000 lives.

Officials from the government and the former main Hutu rebel group that has since joined the government argue that the power sharing agreement and constitution have been brought about by consensus and reflect the wishes of the majority.

Also on Monday, Burundi's transitional president Domitien Ndayizeye said he would retire once his term in office ends in the middle of next year. President Ndayizeye, who took office in April 2003, told reporters the last year-and-a-half had been very tiring for him.