Burundi votes to help end years of civil war

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The Independent Online

People in Burundi went to the polls for the first time in 12 years yesterday, to vote on a constitution designed help end years of civil war.

People in Burundi went to the polls for the first time in 12 years yesterday, to vote on a constitution designed help end years of civil war.

The vote allows for a new constitution that sets up a power-sharing agreement between the country's minority Tutsi and majority Hutu tribe that will eventually lead to presidential and parliamentary elections.

Burundi gained independence from Belgium in 1962 and held its first multi-party elections in 1993 but the first elected president, Melchior Ndad- aye, a Hutu, was assassinated four months later. His death marked the start of a war between Tutsis and Hutus in which 300,000 have been killed.

About 3.1 million of Burundi's 6.3 million citizens registered to vote in the referendum, and the results are to be announced on 4 March. If the constitution is approved, the various political parties will have to run an election that somehow manages to balance the country's ethnic groups.

Under the terms of the new constitution, the Tutsis, who make up 15 per cent of the population will have 40 per cent of the seats in the national assembly, and the Hutus will have the remaining 60 per cent.

The two groups will have an equal share of the police and armed forces. Most Hutu politicians are urging a yes vote but some Tutsi groups say the constitution does not provide them with enough guarantees for their safety.

The exiled Burundi royal family, who consider themselves neither Hutu nor Tutsi, is also involved in the process and Esther Kamatari, a former model and a member of the royal family, plans to return to Burundi from Paris to run as president.

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