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Opposition cries foul over Niger referendum

Niger’s president on Thursday claimed victory in a referendum aimed at allowing him to stay in power beyond his term, while an opposition coalition cried foul, saying the vote was unconstitutional and void.

Giant posters put up in the capital read ”For your fresh show of confidence, all of you, Thank You,” and were signed by President Mamadou Tandja.

Meanwhile, the electoral commission, which has so far announced partial results in about 240 of 265 communes, spoke of a huge turnout with a huge majority — from more than 87% to nearly 98% voting ‘Yes.’

For their part, the Coordination of Democratic Forces for the Republic (CFDR) said the vote attracted only a ”less than 5% participation rate.

”The CFDR reaffirms strongly and with determination that the August 4 referendum organised in breach of the laws of the republic is rejected by the sovereign people and it is null and void,” it said in the statement that was broadcast on private radio stations.

Niger on Tuesday voted on the adoption of a new constitution, which would allow the president, in power since 1999, to remain in office beyond the December 22 end of his tenure, and thereafter seek limitless mandates.

Tandja (71) has consistently claimed that his bid to cling to power is to fulfil ”the will of the people.”

But he ran into stiff opposition from both Parliament and the Constitutional Court. He dissolved both, declared an emergency and has begun to rule by decree, also appointing a new Constitutional Court.

The opposition, which has denounced the vote as Tandja’s ” coup d’état,” called for a boycott of the exercise.

The international community has expressed concern.

”In boycotting the referendum, Niger people have clearly rejected the autocratic scheme of the president,” CFDR said.

CFDR, which groups opposition parties and unions, said ”the true results have been manipulated by supporters of Tandja by seriously inflating the participation figure and giving ‘Yes’ voices to”phantom voters”.

”The August 9 1999 Constitution is and remains the only fundamental law of Niger people,” the CFDR said. — Sapa-AFP

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