Mauritanian party complains of 'unequal' referendum campaign

Nouakchott - The sole Mauritanian political party urging citizens to vote "No" in a controversial referendum on abolishing the Senate complained on Wednesday their ability to campaign had been severely restricted.

The National Democratic Convergence (CDN) is alone in campaigning for a "No" vote as other opposition parties are either calling for a total boycott of the referendum on Saturday, or joining the ruling party of President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz in calling for a "Yes".

"Campaigning is difficult and unequal in terms of time allocated for broadcasting," CDN leader Mahfoudh Ould Bettah told AFP on Tuesday night, saying his party was given "just one percent" of airtime on state-owned radio and television.

"We have one minute on state television, and one and a half minutes on national radio, while those extolling 'Yes' benefit from the rest - that is 99% of designated time," he added.

His party was also prevented from campaigning in certain areas, he said.

Bettah believes that despite the unbalanced coverage it was "certain" that Mauritanians would reject the "unconstitutional" measures, he told AFP.

The boycott movement has meanwhile been excluded from all state broadcasts by the country's media authority, but has held rallies attended by thousands.

It draws broad political support from Islamists and anti-slavery activists in the conservative west African nation, all of whom oppose measures including abolishing the senate and changing the national flag.

Senators rejected the abolition of their own chamber in March, apparently to the government's surprise as a majority are from the ruling party, prompting Aziz to call the referendum.

Sections of the opposition fear that despite Aziz's claims to the contrary he is laying the groundwork for a third term in power, with his own prime minister saying recently he supported the idea.

More than 1.4 million Mauritanians are eligible to vote on the constitutional changes.

President Aziz has promised "revelations" at a final rally on Thursday night in the capital, Nouakchott, after calling senators "corrupt" and the body "dangerous for the future of the country."

On Wednesday the senators organised a sit-in at the Senate and called on the electoral commission to stop supervising a "non-consensual" vote and for Aziz to retract his claims.

Results of the vote are expected early next week.

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