In Summary
  • Some 4.8 million people, or a little under half the population, have signed up to vote, according to the Burundi electoral commission.

  • Voting in Thursday's straight yes or no ballot is due to begin at 6:00 am with polls closing at 4:00 pm.
  • Burundi has struggled to recover from a brutal and destructive civil war from 1993-2006 that left more than 300,000 people dead.

NAIROBI,

Burundians vote Thursday in a referendum on constitutional reforms that are set to shore up the power of President Pierre Nkurunziza, enabling him to rule until 2034.

The referendum comes as Burundi remains mired in a deep political crisis — triggered by Nkurunziza's run for a controversial third term in 2015 — that has killed 1,200 and forced 400,000 from their homes.

Voting in Thursday's straight yes or no ballot is due to begin at 6:00 am (0400 GMT) with polls closing at 4:00 pm.

Some 4.8 million people, or a little under half the population, have signed up to vote, according to the Independent National Electoral Commission (CENI), which is running the referendum.

The changes will be adopted if more than 50 percent of cast ballots are in favour.

But with opponents cowed, beaten, killed or living in exile, there seems little doubt the amendments will pass, enabling the 54-year-old — in power since 2005 — to remain in charge for another 16 years.

Exiled civil rights activists this week called for sanctions against Nkurunziza's regime.

"Do something — don't just issue statements," Pierre Claver Mbonimpa, a renowned rights defender, urged the international community at a press conference in Paris.

The campaign period, like the preceding three years of unrest, has been marked by intimidation and abuse, say human rights groups.

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) said there had been "a campaign of terror to force Burundians to vote yes".

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