1000s protest Tandja referendum

2009-07-05 22:18

Niamey - Tens of thousands of protesters staged a demonstration in Niger on Sunday against President Mamadou Tandja's planned referendum to decide whether he can run for a third term.

Demonstrators walked or rode motorbikes through the streets of the capital Niamey in the peaceful protest, called by the opposition Front for the Defence of Democracy (FDD) coalition.

Protesters also rallied in front of the parliament in the city centre. The demonstration, the third organised by the FDD since May, came two days after Tandja fixed August 4 as the date for the referendum.

'Violations of the constitution'

FDD leader Mahamadou Issoufou decried "the repeated violations of the constitution" by Tandja, who he accused of assuming "exceptional powers" to dissolve Niger's constitutional court and parliament.

The president dissolved the court on Monday, which has ruled against him three times in his bid to hold a referendum to decide whether he can run for a third mandate.

The 71-year-old retired army colonel dissolved parliament, which also opposed his plan, in May.

"The situation is made worse because Tandja insists on carrying on his coup despite criticism from abroad," said Issoufou.

"By taking on exceptional powers, Tandja has abused his power... you have to go back to the Roman Empire to see this type of regime," he said.

According to the constitution, Tandja should step down on December 22 after two terms and 10 years in charge of the country.

But the new constitution he wants to introduce would prolong his mandate by three years, during which time no elections would be held.

Niger's most important international partners, including the EU, France and the US, have condemned Tandja's recent decisions.