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Rwanda's Kagame to Run for Another Term in 2017

FILE - In this Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015 file photo, Rwanda's President Paul Kagame waves to the crowd before speaking at a baby gorilla naming ceremony in Kinigi, northern Rwanda.

Rwandan President Paul Kagame has announced his intention to run for a third term in office in 2017, one week after the country voted in a referendum to change the constitution to allow him to run.

Kagame announced his decision in a televised New Year's Day address Friday, saying, "given the importance and consideration you attach to this, I can only accept." But he added that he does not think the country's aim is to have a "president for life," and said he would not want such a thing.

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

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 last week's referendum.

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

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.