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Niger Opposition Leader Briefly Arrested

A leading opposition leader was detained Tuesday shortly after calling on Nigeriens to boycott President Mamadou Tandja's planned referendum.

Bazoum Mohammed, deputy president of the Nigerien Party for Democracy and Socialism (PNDS) was briefly arrested and released after calling for a boycott of the referendum on a local radio station.

President Tandja's plan to hold an August fourth referendum has received wide condemnation from opposition groups as well as the international community.

The president, whose second five-year term ends in December, wants to change the constitution to extend his rule for three more years. 

Mohammed told VOA the government accused him of encouraging illegality.

"I was arrested for about two hours and they asked me some questions about a statement I have said yesterday on the referendum, Mr. Tandja wants to organize next month," Mohammed said.

He said the opposition is calling on Nigeriens to stay away from the August referendum.

"We as opposition, we will boycott and we will forbid the people from attending this referendum," he said.

Mohammed said the security agents questioned behind his call for the referendum boycott.

"They asked me if I was aware that that means we (opposition) want to tell people to not respect (the) law. I told them that they are not respecting the law because the Constitutional Court cancelled (ruled as illegal the planned referendum)…so what they are going to organize is illegal," Mohammed said.

He said the opposition is aware of the risk in challenging President Tandja's planned referendum.

"When you fight in our condition, you must be aware to be arrested and you must accept it. But how many people can they arrest? They will likely arrest some of us, but they cannot arrest all the Nigerien people," he said.

Mohammed said the opposition is determined to defeat President Tandja's plan.

"We have decided to forbid them (government) to organize the referendum. And even though they can arrest some of us, the many people of Niger will fight against them…and we are sure that we will succeed," Mohammed said.

He said the opposition plans to disrupt the August fourth referendum.

"We will set up some operation on that day. And we are sure that we have people who will do all what they want to do…on that day we will do so many operations and we are sure that we will win," he said.

Mohammed said the opposition will embark on a nationwide campaign against the referendum.          

"We will have our program to visit all the country and we will tell people to be ready. And we are sure that they will be ready and they will do what we tell them to do," Mohammed said.

Niger's opposition political parties have often condemned President Tandja's planned referendum describing it as a coup d'état.                                                 

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