Niger opposition plans protests over president's poll bid

Political parties and trade unions in Niger on Monday announced demonstrations and strikes to prevent a referendum that might enable President Mamadou Tandja to obtain a third term in office.

“On June 7 we’re going to organise simultaneous giant rallies across the country to oppose the referendum,” Hassoumi Massaoudou, a senior member of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS), told journalists.

The PNDS is the main opposition party and part of a Front for the Defence of Democracy (FDD), a coalition of 231 political parties and NGOs hostile to Tandja’s plan for a constitutional referendum.

Niger’s president, who is 71, confirmed on Friday in an address to the nation that he was going to organise a referendum on a new Constitution enabling him to stay in power after his second five-year mandate runs out on December 22.

Tandja did not say when he planned to hold this referendum, which flies in the face of a Constitutional Court ruling against his bid to use part of the current constitution as a basis for a change to extend his mandate.

Massaoudou charged that Tandja “wants to install absolute power” in the poor and landlocked west African nation, where the head of state on May 26 dissolved Parliament within hours of the ruling by the highest court.

The president had launched “the process of demolition of democratic institutions,” Massaoudou said.

“We’re going to organise strikes, meetings, marches and use all constitutional means to make a failure of this catastrophic project,” added Mohamed Bazoum, another PNDS official, who also urged “the international community to act on the chaos in Niger”.

On Sunday the seven trade union federations in the sub-Saharan country announced a wave of strikes against Tandja’s plan.

Tandja’s project has also come in for criticism from civil society and the regional grouping the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), as well as the United States and Canada.

A presidential election is scheduled to be held in Niger on November 14.

Ecowas warned earlier this month that Niger, a vast, largely arid nation that derives most of its income from uranium mining, faced sanctions if its leader persisted in going ahead with the referendum.—Sapa-AFP

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