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Elections Postponed in Burundi - 2004-10-15

At a regional summit meeting in Kenya Friday, African leaders postponed upcoming elections in Burundi and extended the life of the transitional government there.

Elections in Burundi, which were supposed to be held early next month, were postponed Friday at a summit of African leaders meeting in Nairobi.

An editor with the Presidential Press Service, James Mwambai, explains, saying "they said the reality on the ground cannot allow election[s] to take place," he said. "The elections cannot take place before 1 November 2004."

No date for elections was given.

The holding of elections, and the passing of a new constitution, which the summit said should be endorsed before October 25 as an interim constitution until it can be put to a national referendum, follows the requirements of a peace deal that was signed in Tanzania four years ago.

The deal created a three-year transitional government that is to hand over power to an elected government later this year.

The officials said there was not enough time to set up the necessary preparations for an election by November 1.

Complicating the process has been opposition from a group of Tutsi political parties that had earlier refused to sign a power-sharing agreement included within Burundi's constitution.

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.

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.

Several heads of state, along with vice-presidents, ministers, and other representatives attended Friday's summit.