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Niger Opposition Vows to Challenge Referendum Results

Niger's opposition has claimed victory because of the poor turnout for Tuesday's presidential referendum.

Opponents of the measure, that sought to extend President Mamadou Tandja's term limits for three additional years, also vowed to challenge the results of the poll after initial results showed Mr. Tandjah ahead in the vote count.

President Tandja is attempting to change the constitution to remove terms limits.

Bazoum Mohammed, deputy president of the opposition Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) told VOA that with Tuesday's low turnout, Nigeriens have demonstrated solidarity with the opposition by massively refusing to vote in the referendum.

"We are very satisfied because we called on people not to participate in the election, and yesterday, very few people went to the voter bureau. It is a good thing for us because it is a proof that the opposition is more representative than Mr. Tandja's power, and people are with us rather than with him," Mohammed said.

He dismissed the results of the just ended referendum as a sham.

"The results that Mr. Tandja and his electoral commission will have to give have no importance for us because the results are being concocted here in Niamey," he said.

Mohammed said the embattled president has ensured that he wins Tuesday's referendum.

"After voting, Mr. Tandja said that he expects to have 75 percent of the votes for his referendum, and now, they are giving results that are more than 75 percent. They wanted (Tandja) to do better than he hoped," Mohammed said.

He described the referendum as the final straw in President Tandja's subversion of the constitution.

"Towards this referendum, Mr. Tandja has realized his coup d'état. It has been a process. He dissolved the parliament, he disbanded the constitution and he did a new law. And now he has decided that he has been elected alone for three years by this referendum," he said.

Mohammed said the embattled president should be regarded as a dictator and not as a constitutionally elected leader.

"From this moment, we will consider him as a soldier who took the power by force and by weapons, and we will have a relationship with him on this basis. He no longer has any legitimacy (and) he is no longer the president of the republic," Mohammed said.

He said the opposition has decided to challenge the results of the referendum.

"We will contest the referendum results. We will not recognize him and we have to do all our best as democrats. And we are sure that when we are helped by the international community, he will face so much difficulty that he cannot rule as he expects to do now," he said.

If approved, the constitutional changes will allow Mr. Tandja to run for office after his second term ends later in December. Both the local and international community condemned the referendum, describing it as a setback in Niger's fledgling democracy.