KIGALI, Rwanda (AP) — Rwandan President Paul Kagame declared Friday he will run for a third term in office after his second seven-year term expires in 2017, a move opposed by the U.S., a key ally.
The announcement in his end-of-year message follows last month's constitutional referendum in which 98 percent of Rwandans voted to approve a revised Constitution to allow Kagame to extend his tenure in office.
"You requested me to lead the country again after 2017. Given the importance and consideration you attach to this, I can only accept," Kagame said
Kagame became president in 2000 after being Rwanda's de facto leader since the end of the country's genocide in 1994. He is credited with stabilizing the country and promoting economic growth after the mass killings, but critics say he is an authoritarian ruler who does not tolerate opposition and he is accused of human rights abuses.
Rwanda's political opposition criticized the referendum as undemocratic and the U.S., a key Rwandan ally, has opposed Kagame's bid to stay in power.
Appearing to address that, Kagame said "even misguided or deliberately harmful criticism can be the start of a conversation ... what is important is that we respect each other."
Other leaders in East and Central Africa have prolonged their rule.
In 2005, Ugandan lawmakers changed their Constitution, allowing President Yoweri Museveni to seek re-election in 2006 and 2011. He is running again in 2016.
Burundi has political violence that started in April when President Pierre Nkurunziza ran for and won a third term that many oppose.
There have also been protests in Congo over efforts by President Joseph Kabila, who has been in power for 15 years, to prolong his time in office.
This story has been corrected to show that the remarks were made on Friday, not Saturday