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War-torn South Sudan's parliament extends president's term to 2018

AFP , Tuesday 24 Mar 2015
South Sudan
South Sudan's President Salva Kiir (C) acknowledges his supporters as he arrives to address a rally at John Garang's Mausoleum in the capital Juba March 18, 2015 (Photo: Reuters)
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South Sudan's parliament voted Tuesday to extend President Salva Kiir's mandate by three years, an official said, formally ditching any plans for elections to be held this year in the civil war-torn country.

The move has been seen as going against peace efforts by regional mediators, who have been pushing President Kiir and rebel leader Riek Machar to share power in a transitional government, although officials insist Kiir is seeking to avoid a power vacuum following the collapse of peace talks.

"The tenure of the office is extended by 36 months," said parliament official Thomas Wani Kundu, adding that the government's proposal to extend its mandate "was passed overwhelmingly".

Elections in the bitterly divided nation had been due before July 9 -- the end of the parliament and president's mandate under a provisional constitution -- but they were opposed by international donors and civil society groups who say any vote held in the midst of civil war would be a sham.

Talks between Kiir and Machar, which have been hosted by neighbouring Ethiopia, collapsed earlier this month after the two sides failed to agree on a proposal that would see them share power again.

Both sides have since signalled their intention to fight on.

Kundu, however, said the extension of Kiir's mandate was designed to give the government time to reach a peace deal.

"All these amendments were initiated by the President in order to give peace a chance. These (extra) three years are in order to give us a chance to get prepared... so we can conduct free and fair elections," he said.

Fighting broke out in December 2013 when Kiir accused Machar of attempting a coup, setting off a cycle of retaliatory killings across the country.

Over half the country's 12 million people need aid, according to the UN, which is also sheltering some 100,000 civilians trapped inside camps ringed with barbed wire, too terrified to venture out for fear of being killed.

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