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Clinton Says US will Discuss Response to Niger


U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has wrapped up her Africa trip in Cape Verde with talks that included how best to respond to this month's constitutional referendum in Niger. Niger's president is changing the constitution to extend his time in office.

Cape Verde Prime Minister Jose Maria Pereira Neves says the Economic Community of West African States defends strict compliance with constitutional order and respect for the rule of law.

As for the constitutional referendum in Niger, the prime minister says ECOWAS will have to discuss whether to follow through on the threat of sanctions against the government of President Mamdou Tandja. But he says the firm position of the regional alliance is to respect the democratic rules of the game and the constitution. He says ECOWAS should not tolerate disrespect for those rules.

Niger's electoral commission says more than 92 percent of voters approved changes to the constitution allowing President Mamadou Tandja to run for re-election.

Niger's parliament and its constitutional court both told the president that removing term limits would be illegal. President Tandja dissolved both bodies and now rules by decree.

Mr. Tandja says the referendum was a matter between himself and the people of Niger, a direct dialogue that did not include his political opponents or the international community.

But the international community has expressed its displeasure with his move. The European Union suspended aid because it says the government is committing "grave violations" of the rule of law and democratic values. ECOWAS is threatening sanctions.

Secretary Clinton told reporters that the Obama administration is working with partners, including ECOWAS, to decide the best way forward in Niger.

"That is always a challenge as to whether you try to sanction and isolate them and lose influence with them," she said. "It is an issue for the countries in ECOWAS. It is obviously an issue for us. Or whether you take a very hard line against them to try to force changes coming in from below within the government. So we are looking at the closely. We haven't yet made a determination as to the best way forward."

President Tandja's second term expires in December. Once he follows through on constitutional changes approved by the referendum, he will be allowed to run for another three-year term and run again after that if he likes.

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