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Burundi Parliament Set to Name President

Burundi's newly elected parliament is set to choose the country's president Friday. It is a major step on the road to peace for the tiny central African nation which is struggling back from 12 years of civil war.

Former Hutu rebel leader Pierre Nkurunziza is expected to become Burundi's next president in a parliamentary vote Friday. He is the only candidate.

Still, if Mr. Nkurunziza wins a two-thirds majority in the parliament, he will be the country's first president since 1993, when civil war broke out after Burundi's first democratically elected president, a Hutu, was assassinated.

Mr. Nkurunziza's platform of racial unity, political inclusion and fighting poverty has won him popular support, he says. That is crucial in a country that, like Rwanda, has a history of bloodshed between its Hutu and Tutsi populations.

Most Burundians are more concerned about the country's deepening poverty than issues of ethnicity, says Burundi's National Assembly Vice President Onesime Nduwimana.

"In Burundi, we have other problems: poverty for the population, a problem for food, a problem for refugees," he explained. "That's a problem for Hutu and Tutsi. Now, the Burundi people understand that's the way of reconciliation. And I think it's in this direction the future president thinks to work."

Mr. Nkurunziza's rebel group, the Forces for the Defense of Democracy joined the country's interim government in 2003. The interim government was formed under a 2001 peace deal, backed by South Africa, to end the civil war.

More than 250,000 people, mostly civilians, were killed in the 12 years of ethnic fighting between Burundi's Hutu majority and ruling Tutsi minority.

Mr. Nkurunziza has vowed to push for a cease-fire with the last rebel group holdouts, who have stepped up attacks this week south of Burundi's capital, Bujumbura.